September 27, 2005

Tough words from senior Republican on Japan beef row

By Julie Vorman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican head of the Senate
Agriculture Committee on Tuesday expressed growing frustration
at Japan's failure to reopen its market to U.S. beef shipments
and said trade sanctions may be needed.

Tokyo imposed a ban on American beef 19 months ago as a
precaution after the United States diagnosed its first case of
mad cow disease. The U.S. cattle industry says it loses $100
million each month that the Japan market remains closed.

"Japan's inexplicable lack of response to even consider a
move to re-open their market to U.S. beef will sorely tempt
economic trade action against Japan," Sen. Saxby Chambliss of
Georgia, chairman of the panel, said in a statement.

The remarks were among the strongest to date from a senior
Republican lawmaker about Japan's delay in reopening what once
was the biggest market for U.S. beef.

Chambliss did not say what kind of trade sanctions might be
considered or when.

The two nations agreed nearly one year ago on a broad
framework for resuming trade of beef from cattle aged 20 months
or younger, which are considered to have the lowest risk of mad
cow disease.

But no shipments have occurred because the ban is in the
hands of Japan's independent Food Safety Commission, which has
been studying the trade issue.

"Japan is well beyond the time for assessing scientific
reasoning, and diplomatic efforts attempted repeatedly by the
president, by our trade emissaries, and by the U.S. Congress,"
Chambliss said.

On Monday, Japan's food panel met a seventh time to
consider the safety of American beef and said it needed further
discussion of the issue. The chairman of the commission,
Yasuhiro Yoshikawa, presented a draft report that suggested
beef from young American animals was at low risk for mad cow
disease, but some panel members opposed accepting the report.

Without the food commission's approval, the Japanese
government cannot lift the ban on imports.

Last week, the U.S. Senate voted to ban some $800,000 worth
of annual imports of a Japanese delicacy, Kobe beef, to show
displeasure with Japan's slow progress. Kobe beef comes from
Wagyu cattle massaged with sake and fed a diet enriched with

U.S. cattle producers and their allies in Congress have
stepped up complaints against Japan with the approach of the
one-year anniversary on October 23 of the U.S.-Japan agreement
to resume trade.

Mad cow disease -- or bovine spongiform encephalopathy --
is believed to be caused by malformed proteins and spread
through infected feed. People can contract a human version of
the disease by eating contaminated meat.

Before the ban, Japan was the top importer of American beef
with shipments valued at $1.4 billion in 2003.