No Schedule Yet on Japan Beef Trade-USDA's Johanns
WASHINGTON Japan still has provided no time frame for reopening its market to American beef, despite speculation that trade could resume this summer, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said on Tuesday.
"I've gotten no confirmation at all as to what the time line is," Johanns told Reuters after speaking to a group of state agriculture officials.
Japan had been the No. 1 importer of American beef until Tokyo suspended all purchases in December 2003, following the discovery of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease.
Since then, USDA has tightened some safeguards against a fatal animal disease that can be transmitted to humans in a variant form by eating beef from contaminated cattle.
With those safeguards in place, USDA argues that the U.S. beef industry should now have full access to what had been a $1.4 billion market in 2003.
While Japan tentatively has approved a new program that would reopen its border to some U.S. beef, Tokyo has not yet said when it would give final approval to resume trade.
A U.S. meat industry official in Singapore on Monday estimated that Japan's market would reopen by July. Last week, a Japanese official based in the United States was quoted saying he thought the trade ban would end by this summer.
"I've gotten no indication on that," Johanns said.
So far, Japan has ignored a request by Johanns that it set a firm date for relaxing its ban on U.S. beef.
Once beef exports to Japan are approved by Tokyo, Johanns noted there will be "the process of ramping up; just the mechanics" of getting back into that market. Johanns did not estimate how long that would take.
"To set a timeline would be very hard for me to do," he said.