WASHINGTON – Twenty-seven US senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama on March 8 in support of the administration’s efforts to expand the presence of US businesses and exports in the Asia-Pacific region through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Japan recently expressed interest in joining the TPP, which resulted in the policymakers to extend cautious optimism to the president.

The senators noted the need to expand market access into important economies such as Japan, but they also referred to the history of the US/Japan trade relationship.

“It is also encouraging the leaders of the Japanese government have expressed their interest in joining the TPP and thus eliminating their tariff and non-tariff trade barriers to US goods and services,” the senators wrote. “However, given Japan’s historical intransigence in allowing market access for American agricultural goods, we write to express reservations regarding Japan’s inclusion in these negotiations until certain conditions are met. In addition to prohibitively high tariffs on many agricultural goods, Japan has discriminated against US beef imports with restrictions that are inconsistent with international standards and not based on scientific criteria.”

In December of 2003, Japan closed its market to US beef following the discovery of a Canadian-born cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the US. Japan at that time was the largest export market for US beef, valued at $1.4 billion. Japan has had restrictions in place on US beef imports since then, and currently only allows imports of beef from cattle aged 20 months and younger.

Kent Bacus, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Manager of Legislative Affairs, said the restrictions put US cattlemen and women at a competitive disadvantage without any science-based rationale.

“The US has multiple safeguards currently in place that have prevented BSE from taking hold in our country,” Bacus said. “The trade barriers Japan has in place on US beef appear to be motivated by something other than science.”

Since 1990, the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has aggressively enhanced its BSE surveillance system, testing at levels 40 times higher than recommended by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

Out of a US cattle inventory numbering nearly 100 million head every year, there have only been three confirmed cases of BSE since 2003. In contrast, Japan, with an annual cattle inventory of only 4.5 million head, has had 36 cases of BSE since 2003. Because of these efforts, the US is classified as a controlled risk country by the OIE, which indicates that US beef products are completely safe for export and consumption.