Bush to tell Fukuda "Here's the Beef"

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 11/11/2007 04:44:00 PM
The seemingly never-ending US-Japan quarrel over American beef exports appears headed for yet another showdown as Bush will tell Japanese PM Fukuda to life an age limit on US beef exports. If you will recall, Japan together with some other East Asian countries banned American beef exports in 2003 when US cattle was found that had mad cow disease. Then, in 2004, Japan allowed US beef exports for cattle under the age of 20 months because it "is the earliest age at which Japanese testing on domestic herds has detected mad cow disease." The under-20 regime has remained in place, but the US is pushing to have the age restriction lifted instead of acceding to Japan's proposal to lift the age limit to 30 months. Kyodo News suggests the US wants Japan to remove all limits because (a) determining a cow's age is neither cheap nor easy and (b) reaching a deal with Japan to remove the limit places it in a better bargaining position to ask South Korea for a similar deal:
U.S. President George W. Bush is poised to turn up the heat on Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda during their planned talks later this month to repeal the age limit on U.S. beef imports, a U.S. government source said Saturday.

Fukuda will be the third Japanese premier whom Bush has urged to fully open the country's beef market, following Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe, the source said, referring to the president's pent-up frustration on the issue.

The source made the comments after Acting U.S. Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner said in late October it is taking ''too long'' to resolve the bilateral beef trade dispute stemming from Japanese fears of mad cow disease. ''We're going to continue to press this point,'' Conner told reporters. ''We're frustrated.''

Japan limits U.S. beef imports to meat coming from cattle aged 20 months or younger. Since June, the two countries have held talks on relaxing Japan's beef import terms for U.S. beef. Tokyo is considering raising the limit to cattle aged 30 months or younger.

Washington has been urging Tokyo to fully open its beef market since the World Organization for Animal Health decided in May to allow the United States to export beef regardless of cattle age. The source said Washington deems it insufficient for Tokyo to raise the age limit partly due to cumbersome and costly procedures needed to make sure of cattle age.

Another reason, the source said, is a U.S. strategy to pry open other markets such as South Korea and China, after resolving the complex trade row with Japan. The United States and South Korea signed a bilateral free trade agreement in June, but the arrangement has not taken effect partly due to what U.S. lawmakers say is Seoul's less-than-satisfactory market opening, including the beef market.

Washington apparently wants to have Japan, which has stricter restrictions on American beef imports than South Korea, open its market first and build a more favorable negotiating position on the trade spat with Seoul. Fukuda plans to visit the United States in mid-November for his first meeting with Bush since he became Japanese premier in September.