Japan and the United States began a two-day technical meeting Tuesday in Tokyo to discuss Washington’s request that Japan lift its import ban on American beef.
A team led by Charles Lambert, acting U.S. agriculture undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, is expected to answer questions about a shipment of U.S. veal in January found to contain prohibited backbone material. The discovery prompted Japan to reimpose its embargo just one month after it had been lifted for the first time in two years.
“We are here today with technical experts to answer any unanswered questions . . . for resuming trade, following whatever reviews or plans are necessary for the resumption of trade,” Lambert said at the start of the meeting.
Masato Kitera, deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Economic Affairs Bureau, said, “Japanese people are concerned about the credibility of the checking system agreed earlier between the two countries.
“Unless their doubts are cleared, U.S. beef will not be accepted by them.”
Kitera said Japan hopes to hear a sincere response to its questions from the U.S. team.
Officials from the farm and health ministries are also participating in the talks.
On Jan. 20, Japan reimposed its ban on U.S. beef imports after backbones were found in a veal shipment at Narita airport despite a bilateral agreement banning the material as a precaution against the spread of mad cow disease.
Tokyo had lifted its two-year-old ban on U.S. beef imports only last December, on condition that imports would be limited to meat from cattle no older that 20 months, with specified risk materials removed prior to shipment.
In February, the U.S. submitted a report to the Japanese government on the country’s inspection system, concluding the veal shipment was a “unique” case.
Japan is not satisfied with the corrective measures called for in the report. It also doubts about whether appropriate measures are being taken at the roughly 40 U.S. meat-processing facilities certified to export beef to Japan.
Vice Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Mamoru Ishihara said at a news conference Monday: “We believe not only the Japanese government, but also the Japanese public, has not received a sufficient explanation. We would like the United States to understand Japanese consumers’ interest.”