(Inside U.S. Trade) — Three groups representing the U.S. beef industry last week expressed general support for Japan joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations but emphasized that Japan must increase its access for U.S. beef exports, which has been limited in the wake of a 2003 outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the U.S. herd.
Of these, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) was the most explicit in demanding that Japan must first show that it is willing to ease the age restrictions it places on U.S. beef exports before joining the TPP. Japan currently limits U.S. imports to beef from cattle under 20 months of age.
“For Japan to join TPP, they must first exhibit their willingness to abide by higher [sanitary and phytosanitary] standards by relaxing the age restriction on beef imports,” NCBA wrote in comments to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
NCBA does not specify whether it is seeking an import regime that would allow the sale of U.S. beef from cattle up to 30 months or an elimination of all age restrictions so that beef from cattle of all ages could be sold.
But the comments note that “rough estimates suggest that even lifting the non-science based age restriction to 30 months would increase U.S. beef sales in Japan by as much as $1 billion.” An NCBA spokesman refused to elaborate on the comments, which he said are “as stated.”
In the context of the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement renegotiation, NCBA was wary to go beyond demanding access for beef from cattle older than 30 months for fear of jeopardizing a valuable market (Inside U.S. Trade, July 16, 2010).
Last year, the Japanese government requested a risk assessment from the Japan Food Safety Agency on consuming beef from cattle up to 30 months of age from the United States and three other suppliers (Inside U.S. Trade, Dec. 23).
In its comments, NCBA welcomed this step as “significant” for Japan, and urged a completion of the risk assessment as soon as possible with the goal of setting “impartial, internationally recognized, science-based standards” regrading beef and beef products.
NCBA rejected what it said were “politically motivated standards” governing beef sales from BSE countries and said all TPP countries must agree to and abide by the highest sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS) possible in accordance with the World Trade Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
OIE guidelines state that beef from cattle of all ages is safe for human consumption from controlled BSE risk countries like the United States and Canada. In the U.S.-Korea FTA context, NCBA favored what is known as the incremental approach to these rules, meaning that it settled for interim access for beef from cattle up to 30 months while insisting that the ultimate goal in South Korea is full OIE compliance.
The American Meat Institute (AMI) wrote in its comments that Japan’s participation in the TPP could represent a “major opportunity” for U.S. meat exporters because it is the largest pork importer and third largest beef importer.
For Japan’s accession to the TPP to be beneficial, it must agree to the same “comprehensive” market access standards that other TPP members have accepted, and it must tackle the same non-tariff barriers, AMI said. It is also “essential” that Japan adhere to international science-based standards and guidelines to food safety as adopted by the OIE and the Codex Alimentarius Commission, according to AMI.
AMI does not specify whether it would accept the incremental approach of Japan accepting beef from cattle up to 30 months, with the ultimate goal of dropping all age restrictions, or if it is seeking an immediate elimination of all age restrictions.
The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) conveyed a similar message in its comments as the AMI, also without specifying exactly what level of market access it is demanding in the near term.
Other commodity groups also backed Japan’s participation in the TPP under certain conditions. For example, USA Rice stressed that a TPP agreement should include “all tariff lines,” in an apparent reference to rice.
South Korea excluded rice tariff lines under the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement and therefore provided no new market access, and USA Rice does not want the same thing to happen in Japan were it to join the TPP talks.
The American Potato Trade Alliance (APTA) also “supports Japan joining the TPP talks,” pointing out that Japan is the largest export market for U.S. processed potato products despite maintaining significant duties. Similarly, the National Potato Council also supported Japan joining the TPP talks.