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Japan, US ministers may discuss beef in London

Written by: Staff

TOKYO, March 2: Japanese Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns are likely to discuss beef trade if they meet on the sidelines of farm trade talks in London next week, Japanese officials said today.

Six ministers from major farm exporting and importing countries, including Japan and the United States, are preparing to meet in London around the end of next week to discuss farm trade issues ahead of an end-April deadline for agreeing a draft free trade deal at the World Trade Organisation.

It has not yet been decided whether Nakagawa and Johanns will hold bilateral talks during the London meeting, which may start on March 10, Vice Agriculture Minister Mamoru Ishihara said.

''I think they will take up the issue of BSE if they can meet,'' Ishihara said at a news conference today.

In January, Japan reinstated a ban on US beef over fears about mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), after its inspectors discovered banned cattle parts in a veal shipment from New York.

The action came just a month after Japan had lifted a two-year-old ban on US beef imports on condition that meat should come from cattle aged up to 20 months, and that specified parts seen as relatively risky were removed before the meat was shipped.

The Japanese government has said it cannot allow imports to resume until Washington finds the cause of the violation and takes steps to prevent a recurrence.

The US Agriculture Department submitted a report on February 17 that examined how the violation occurred and USDA steps to prevent a repetition. Johanns said on Monday the USDA would respond expeditiously to any questions from Japan about the report.

The Japanese government has been carefully reviewing the US report and preparing a Japanese translation of it for public reference, Ishihara said.

''Now we are finalising the translation, and want to publish the translated report as soon as possible,'' he added.

Ishihara also said after the government completes the official translation, it will submit any questions about it to the United States, possibly at the ministerial meeting in London.

Before the initial ban, Japan had been the top importer of US beef. In 2003, it imported 240,000 tonnes of US beef valued at 1.4 billion dollars, about one-quarter of total Japanese beef demand.

The Japanese government, under fire from opposition critics who say it lifted the ban too quickly under US pressure, is cautious about an early resumption of beef imports.

The US report said a US firm made an ineligible shipment because the exporter and the USDA inspector were not sufficiently familiar with the requirements of Japan's beef export programme.

The veal was shipped by Atlantic Veal and Lamb and supplied by Golden Veal, both of which were certified on January 6. USDA personnel confirmed at that time that both understood the requirements of the programme.


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