U.S.M.E.F. encouraged by Japan's recent visit to U.S.

by Bryan Salvage
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DENVER — Philip Seng, U.S. Meat Export Federation president and chief executive officer, is encouraged by the recent visit to the U.S. by Hirotaka Akamatsu, the newly appointed Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for Japan. Mr. Akamatsu met with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk earlier this month in Washington, D.C.

Their discussion focused on both countries’ desire to reach a successful conclusion to the Doha Development Agenda (D.D.A.) and on other issues affecting agricultural trade. Among the specific topics discussed was Japan’s restriction of U.S. beef imports to beef from cattle 20 months of age and younger. Mr. Seng said resolving this issue is critical to U.S. beef producers and absolutely necessary if U.S. beef exports are to reach their full potential in Japan.

Despite speculation that Japan’s new ruling party might be more challenging to deal with on agricultural trade, Mr. Seng said he has been very encouraged by the tone and actions taken by the new government in the early days of its administration.

"I think it is very significant that Minister Akamatsu, who has only been in power for a few weeks, to choose to come to the U.S.," Mr. Seng said. "We’re interested in kicking-off the D.D.A. negotiations, which started initially in Seattle in 1999 and reconvened in 2001. It has been a long time and still hasn’t been concluded. He basically said he would like to deal with this on scientific terms.

"Ambassador Kirk was very good, too, because he said we have to predicate everything going forward on the O.I.E. and also adhere to the science pertaining to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy [B.S.E.] issue," he added. "So, I hope this is the kick-off here for further talks and also for the completion of the technical report the Japanese are waiting on. Hopefully, this will kick-start the process."

Mr. Seng added that he has been very encouraged by the actions taken so far by the new administration despite fears that Japan’s new government might be more difficult to deal with on agricultural trade.

"I’m very excited, when you consider the fact that over the course of the last week some things have happened here that the Japanese government has been [responsive to]," he said. "Obviously, there is a lot of rhetoric when you’re running for office and it’s a different world when you get into office. From the industry’s standpoint — and hopefully from our government’s standpoint — there’s nothing but good will and a good intent on both sides as far as trying to move forward this 20-month issue because we need to get above 20 months. It’s time, frankly, for us to move forward on this issue."

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