March 6, 2006

Japan: Not expecting US answers on beef this week

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Agriculture Minister Shoichi
Nakagawa said on Tuesday U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike
Johanns is unlikely to answer all the questions from Japan
about U.S. shipments of banned cattle parts at their meeting
this week.

Nakagawa is considering discussing the beef issue with
Johanns when they meet on the sidelines of world trade talks in
London later this week.

"I don't expect Secretary Johanns and I will go through
each of the questions as they are very technical," Nakagawa
told reporters on Tuesday, adding that their meeting has not
yet been officially set.

Nakagawa also said the Japanese government had yet to
receive any U.S. response to the Japanese questions.

On Monday, Japan sent a list of questions about a U.S.
report on the veal shipment that prompted Japan to reinstate a
ban on American beef in January.

Japan suspended U.S. beef imports on January 20, just a
month after it eased a two-year-old ban on U.S. beef imposed
over mad cow disease fears, when Japanese inspectors discovered
banned spinal material in a veal shipment from New York.

The Japanese government has said it cannot allow imports to
resume until Washington finds the cause of the violation and
takes steps to prevent a recurrence.

In a report submitted to Japan on February 17, the U.S.
Agriculture Department said that a U.S. firm made an ineligible
shipment because the exporter and the USDA inspector were not
sufficiently familiar with the requirements of Japan's beef
export program.

The veal was shipped by Atlantic Veal and Lamb and supplied
by Golden Veal, both of which were certified on January 6. USDA
personnel confirmed at the time that both understood the
requirements of the program.

In the report, the USDA concluded they were confident that
the circumstances surrounding the ineligible shipment were
unique because it was the first and only shipment of veal to
Japan under the beef export program.

But Nakagawa said the Japanese government could not take
the same stance.

"We should not treat the incident as unique, as it was
something that should never have happened," Nakagawa told

In December, Japan lifted a ban on imports from the U.S. of
beef and beef offal from cattle aged up to 20 months, on
condition that specified risk materials that could spread the
disease, such as spinal cords, were removed before shipment.

Before the initial ban, Japan was the top importer of U.S.
beef. In 2003, it imported 240,000 tonnes of U.S. beef valued
at $1.4 billion, about one-quarter of total Japanese beef

The Japanese government, under fire from opposition critics
who say it lifted the ban too quickly under U.S. pressure, is
cautious about an early resumption of beef imports.