Japan has again rebuffed a U.S. request for an end to the ban on the importation of American beef. Washington's trade representative made the request to Japanese officials as he kicked off a world tour to reinvigorate stalled world trade talks.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick made little headway Wednesday in convincing Japan to reopen its huge beef market to American imports. According to a ministry statement, Agriculture Minister Yoshiyuki Kamei told Mr. Zoellick that Japan's position is unchanged: the United States must agree to test all slaughtered cattle bound for Japan for "mad cow" disease before Tokyo will consider dropping the ban.
Mr. Kamei was reiterating a position taken by the Japanese government shortly after mad cow disease was discovered in one U.S. herd last December. A U.S. delegation visited Tokyo then in an attempt to get the ban lifted, and was told that would happen only after a total testing program was begun in the United States.
Mr. Zoellick told reporters he hoped the Japanese might reconsider after an international review on the safety of U.S. beef is complete. "What I ask of our Japanese colleagues is that when we finish the examination of this review, we would like to come back to Japan and talk about possible steps to reopen the market on a scientific basis," he said.
Japan, normally the number one importer of U.S. beef, is one of more than two dozen nations that banned it immediately after the discovery of mad cow, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, in a herd in Washington State.
Washington argues that testing older cows that are at higher risk for the illness would be sufficient protection. But Japan, which has suffered its own mad cow crisis, tests all of its domestically slaughtered cattle for infection. The human illness believed to result from eating tainted meat, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, has killed more than 100 people, mostly in England.
Mr. Zoellick said he had also asked for Japan's views on restarting the world trade talks that collapsed in Cancun, Mexico last September. The talks failed because rich and poor countries could not reach agreement on two main issues: subsidies to farmers, and rules to govern investment by multinational companies in developing nations.
Mr. Zoellick told reporters he had written to the trade ministers of World Trade Organization member-nations in an effort to revive the negotiations and solve the thorny subsidy issue. "We think that the United States is committed to eliminating export subsidies, drastic cuts in our other subsidies," he said. "We cannot do it unless we get Japan and Europe and some of the other big subsidizers to cut [subsidies] and open markets."
Mr. Zoellick will also visit China, Singapore, South Asia, Africa and Europe in his effort to get the trade talks back on track.