Order Code RS22115
April 13, 2005
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Japan-U.S. Beef Trade Issues
Geoffrey S. Becker
Specialist in Agricultural Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Japan banned imports of U.S. beef in late 2003, when the United States reported
the discovery of a single cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or “mad
cow disease”). U.S. officials had announced in October 2004 that a bilateral agreement
meant that Japan, formerly the top foreign market, could soon resume U.S. beef imports.
However, despite continuing pressure on the Japanese by the Bush Administration and
Members of Congress, U.S. beef sales there are not expected to begin before the summer
of 2005 at the earliest. This report will be updated if significant developments ensue.
U.S.-Japan Beef Trade
Until December 23, 2003, when the United States reported its first and only BSE
case, in a Canadian-born cow, Japan was the leading foreign customer for U.S. beef.1
U.S. beef sales to Japan by 2000 had reached about 546,000 metric tons (MT) and $1.814
billion, but declined over the next two years, to 332,000 MT and $1.028 billion in 2002.
This decline has been attributed to the discovery of BSE in Japan in September 2001,
which caused domestic consumption to decline there.
U.S. beef exports to Japan increased in 2003 to nearly 367,000 MT and $1.394
billion. Japan accounted for 29% of the total of 1.274 million MT of U.S. beef exported
worldwide in 2003. On a value basis, Japan accounted for 36% of all U.S. beef exports
of $3.862 billion in 2003. (The other top U.S. buyers were Korea, which remains closed,
and Mexico and Canada, which are again accepting some types of U.S. beef. Several
other countries that had initially banned U.S. beef imports also are now accepting some
In this report, “beef” refers to beef, veal, and beef variety meats (e.g., liver, intestine, tripe,
tongue). Information and data sources for this report include U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA), including Economic Research Service (ERS), “Japan: Issues and Analysis,” at
[http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/Japan/issuesandanalysis.htm]; U.S. Meat Export Federation;
CRS Issue Brief IB10127, Mad Cow Disease: Agricultural Issues for Congress; and CRS Report
RS21709, Mad Cow Disease and U.S. Beef Trade.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Japan had exported some speciality beef (primarily cuts of Kobe and Wagyu beef)
to the United States. Such imports, which reached 15.2 MT and $1.4 million in 1999,
have been banned by USDA since 2000, initially because foot-and-mouth disease was
found in Japan, and since September 2001 because BSE was found there.2
U.S. Industry Impacts
A rise in U.S. beef consumption, by three pounds per capita between 2003 and 2005
(projected), to 67.9 pounds, has helped to cushion total U.S. export losses, and some
foreign countries have begun to accept some U.S. beef.3 Still, regaining the Japanese
market is viewed by U.S. cattle producers and beef processors as critical to long-term
economic health. Not only was Japan the leading market in volume; it also was a major
buyer of products not as widely consumed in the United States like brains and other
organs, all of which add value to each animal slaughtered. Moreover, as U.S. Secretary
of Agriculture Johanns testified recently, “We are aware that the decision to resume trade
in this market will set an important precedent for trade resumption in many other
Cattle producers were losing about $10 per cwt., or $125 per head, due to lost access
to the Japanese, Korean, and other Asian markets, Cattle-Fax, an industry analysis and
reporting service, concluded in 2004. USDA estimated (April 2005) that U.S. beef and
veal exports globally reached only 461 million pounds in 2004, or 18% of the 2003 level
of 2.519 billion pounds, even with the partial reopening of Canada and Mexico. The
department predicted that unless more markets reopen, exports would reach only 630
million pounds in 2005. Other countries, notably Australia and New Zealand, have filled
U.S. lost market share in Japan. USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) concluded:
“Australian grass-fed beef is not fully substitutable with U.S grain-fed beef, and
Australia’s grain-fed beef production cannot reach levels comparable to the United States
due to grain supply constraints and limited feedlot capacity.”5 Still, U.S. exporters are
concerned that as long as U.S. beef is banned, these foreign competitors will expand their
inroads, and that long-term Japanese tastes might trend toward less beef in their diets.
Japan banned the importation of U.S. beef and related products on December 24,
2003. USDA and trade officials soon initiated discussions with the Japanese over terms
for readmitting U.S. beef. Negotiations continued throughout 2004 and reached the
highest levels when President Bush discussed the issue at the September 2004 summit
with Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi; the President raised the issue again in a March
9, 2005, telephone call with him. Beef imports reportedly were a major topic, along with
North Korea and China concerns, during Secretary of State Rice’s March 18-19, 2005,
visit to Japan. (See CRS Issue Brief IB97004, Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress.)
USDA, APHIS, 65 Federal Register p. 43682, July 14, 2000; 66 Federal Register p. 52483,
October 16, 2001. To date the Japanese have reported 16 cases of BSE in their cattle.
For status of market openings, see [http://www.aphis.usda.gov/lpa/issues/bse/bse_trade.html].
Testimony before the House Committee on Agriculture, March 1, 2005.
USDA, FAS, Livestock and Poultry: U.S. Markets and Trade, October 2004.
Among a number of key differences in the talks was Japan’s insistence that the
United States adopt universal testing of all cattle, or at a minimum of those whose beef
was destined for Japan. Japan had adopted this policy after it found BSE in its own cattle
herds, among other measures aimed at dealing with the disease and reassuring consumers
there, who are widely viewed as being extremely sensitive about food safety issues.
While the Japanese considered 100% testing as a question of equivalency, the United
States contended that it was not scientifically justifiable.
Japan claimed to have found BSE in its own cows as young as 21 months old. U.S.
interests countered that current testing methods cannot confirm BSE in younger animals,
and that 100% testing would provide false assurances that such meat is safe, and imply
that untested meat might not be. Other U.S. regulatory measures offer more scientifically
proven protections for cattle and humans, including a ban on feeding most cattle parts
back to cattle, and the removal of brain, spinal tissue, and other higher-risk parts from
cattle over the age of 30 months. Testing is appropriate for determining the extent, if any,
of BSE in cattle herds for disease surveillance, not for assuring food safety, U.S. officials
have maintained. Also, testing all 35 million U.S. cattle slaughtered annually would be
economically prohibitive, they have argued.6
October 2004 Joint Statement
On October 23, 2004, the United States and Japan announced jointly that they had
reached agreement on a framework for resuming two-way beef trade. U.S. officials had
characterized this statement as an accord that could lead to a resumption of U.S. exports
within months if not weeks. The Japanese appeared to view the announcement more as
a progress report. The joint statement included the following elements:
Japanese beef would be permitted in the United States following relevant
U.S. rulemaking procedures.
The United States would establish, with Japanese concurrence, an interim
marketing program that would enable a resumption of some U.S. exports
to Japan, by certifying that all beef shipments are from cattle under 21
months old. The United States also would expand its definition of cattle
parts having a higher risk of harboring BSE. These “specified risk
materials” (SRMs) would include — for cattle of all ages — the entire
head except tongues and cheek meat; tonsils; spinal cords; distal ileum;
and part of the vertebral column. This is broader than the current U.S.
SRM definition, which applies mainly to cattle over 30 months old.
The two countries would evaluate this interim marketing program by July
2005, based in part on a scientific evaluation by international health
experts, and modify it if appropriate.
The interim marketing arrangement was to be a modified version of the Beef Export
Verification (BEV) Program established in 2003 by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing
Service (AMS). In August 2003 USDA officials announced that they would restart
USDA in 2004 denied permission to Creekstone Farms, a smaller specialty beef packer (and
possibly other smaller firms), to conduct BSE tests on all cattle to meet Japanese demands. See
CRS Report RL32414, The Private Testing of Mad Cow Disease: Legal Issues.
imports of specified low-risk beef products from Canada, which had reported its first case
of BSE in a native cow in May 2003. To allay Japanese concerns that Canadian beef
(banned in Japan) might enter with U.S. beef exported to Japan, U.S. officials agreed to
what they described as a voluntary, fee-based marketing service to companies supplying
beef to foreign buyers, including Japan. Under BEV, AMS would audit suppliers and
document that their procedures could segregate U.S. from Canadian meat.7
According to some analysts, U.S. packers may have difficulty satisfying the Japanese
criteria in the October 2004 statement, even though an estimated 70% to 80% of all the
U.S. cattle killed yearly are believed to be under 21 months of age. The age of animals
in the BEV program must be verifiable. Age records may only be available for anywhere
from 10% to 25% of U.S. cattle, according to various estimates.8 To address this
problem, after a detailed U.S. study of the relationship between a cow’s age and its
physiological characteristics, U.S. and Japanese authorities agreed in early February 2005
on a method of evaluating carcass age through grading and quality attributes.9
With agreement on cattle grades to verify age, all outstanding technical issues have
been resolved, Agriculture Secretary Johanns has declared. Nonetheless, progress toward
market reopening has proceeded far more slowly than USDA had indicated in October
2004. Most observers do not expect that U.S. beef will be eligible for the Japanese
market until well into 2005 at the earliest — notwithstanding the fact that high-level Bush
Administration officials and key members of Congress continue to press the issue with
the Japanese. Several high-ranking Japanese officials have declined to provide a specific
timetable, saying that they must explain proposed changes to consumers and follow
specified rulemaking requirements. The October 2004 statement recognizes the necessity
of these domestic rule procedures in both countries but also expects them to be
“completed expeditiously” so that two-way beef trade can be resumed “immediately after
completing their respective domestic procedures.”
Japan must complete two separate but related regulatory steps, according to USDA
analysts and to trade reports. The first step requires approval of a change in Japan’s
domestic testing, from all cattle to only those over 20 months of age. The second step
involves changing the ban on U.S. beef imports. Japan’s independent Food Safety
Commission (FSC) plays key roles in both of them.
The FSC in late March 2005 accepted a report by its special subcommittee on BSE
stating that limiting testing to cattle over 20 months might result in only a negligible
increase in food safety risk. The FSC in turn opened this decision to 30 days of public
comment, through late April.10 The FSC is then expected to vote in early May on formal
For details see [http://www.ams.usda.gov/lsg/arc/bev.htm]. The United States also has been
working on a national animal identification system, which could be useful in verifying age, but
it is not yet operational. See CRS Report RL32012, Animal Identification and Meat Traceability.
See “Age Verification Will be Big Barrier,” Cattle Buyers Weekly, September 13, 2004.
Technical information on this system is at [http://www.ams.usda.gov/lsg/stand/Japan.htm].
This FSC action followed a five-month review of the risk of BSE in younger cattle in response
approval of the recommendation, which then would be forwarded to Japan’s Ministry of
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), and Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare
(MHLW). Those ministries are expected to conduct two to three weeks of “town hall
meetings” and consultation with Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Draft regulations that actually would provide for U.S. beef imports will not be
submitted to the FSC by the two ministries (MAFF and MHLW) until after the FSC
makes its final recommendation to them on the domestic changes. The second FSC
recommendation, on resuming U.S. imports, also will be subject to 30 days of public
comment. After that, the FSC is to make its import recommendation to MAFF and
WHLW, according to USDA.
There appear to be some uncertainties that make it difficult to plot a more precise
timetable. For example, it is unclear how much time each of the agencies might take to
consider comments received and make any modifications, although U.S. officials are
expecting this will be short.11 (Such uncertainty surrounding agency internal deliberations
may be no different than that which occurs when U.S. agencies consider rule changes.)
Nevertheless, the schedule as it is now understood suggests that U.S. beef might not be
entering Japan before mid-summer at the earliest.
The United States, Canada, and Mexico on April 1, 2005, announced what they call
a scientific, harmonized approach to BSE risk mitigation in North America that also will
be presented to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE for its French acronym),
“to promote international harmonization of BSE risk mitigation” through the OIE.” The
proposed changes in OIE guidelines rely on scientific evidence arguing against testing
cattle under 30 months old — yet the U.S.-Japan agreement calls for accepting beef only
from those younger than 21 months old. (OIE guidelines are supposed to help determine
an exporting country’s BSE status and thus whether to accept its beef.)12
The October 2004 statement indicated that experts from the OIE and World Health
Organization (WHO) would participate in a scientific review of the interim marketing
program, after which the U.S. and Japanese governments would reach a consensus on
making any changes in the program. This too would be subject to review by the Japanese
FSC. Given that the interim marketing program has not yet started, it is difficult if not
impossible to forecast when resumption of full beef trade with Japan might occur.
to a September 2004 FSC report, Measures Against BSE in Japan (Interim Report). The report
observed that testing methods had been unable to detect BSE in any Japanese cattle of 20 months
or younger; a total of 3.5 million cattle had been tested. The same report concluded that because
more than 99% of BSE infective material is found in SRM, their removal “is considered as an
extremely effective measure to reduce the risk of BSE infection to humans.”
The preceding observations are based in part on personal communications with officials of
USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service on April 7 and 13, 2005.
On April 13, 2005, some news sources were reporting that the United States in fact had
formally asked the FSC to adopt the 30-month (rather than the 21-month) cut-off. CRS did not
immediately verify these reports. The USDA press release on the North American strategy paper
can be accessed at [http://www.aphis.usda.gov/lpa/issues/bse/bse.html]. The annual General
Session of the OIE International Committee will be held from May 22-27, 2005, in Paris.
Activity During the 109th Congress
Congress. In the 109th Congress, key lawmakers have voiced increasing frustration
with the slow pace of the Japanese deliberations. Reopening the Japanese market has
been a recurring theme during hearings before various House and Senate committees. At
a March 1, 2005, House Agriculture Committee hearing on BSE trade issues (primarily
regarding Canada imports), the Secretary of Agriculture declared that the delays could
further complicate relations between Japan and the United States. Following a meeting
in early April with the Japanese Ambassador and more than 20 other House members, the
Agriculture Committee chairman issued a statement echoing that warning.
Other individual and bipartisan groups of lawmakers have written to and/or met with
the Japanese ambassador about their concerns. For example, 20 Senators, noting that
Japan has a substantial trade surplus with the United States, warned in a February 18,
2005, letter to him that they might pursue economic retaliation.
Resolutions have been introduced expressing the sense of the House and Senate that
if Japan continues to “delay meeting its obligations,” the United States Trade
Representative (USTR) “should immediately impose retaliatory economic measures
against Japan.” (H.Res. 137 was introduced on March 3 and S.Res. 87 on March 17,
2005). These resolutions would encourage rather than compel the Administration to act;
however, if passed, they could increase political pressure on the White House. Other bills
and resolutions also could be offered.
Administration. If the Administration were to seek retaliation, a likely venue
would be the World Trade Organization (WTO). Dispute resolution there is carried out
under the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU), whose rules and procedures
apply to virtually all WTO agreements. The DSU provides for consultations between
disputing parties, panels and appeals, and possible compensation or retaliation if a
defending party does not comply with an adverse WTO decision by a given date.
Although the Administration said it continues to prefer negotiation over retaliation, it did
express its “extraordinary concerns about Japan’s continuing restrictions” in a March 9,
2005, statement before the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Committee.13 Also,
USTR recently elevated the beef issue by including it for the first time in its annual 2005
National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers.
WTO dispute resolution can be a lengthy process, and even a favorable decision may
not result in a resumption of beef exports to Japan. For example, in the late 1990s the
WTO permitted the United States to impose retaliatory tariffs on the European Union
(EU) after agreeing that the EU’s ban on U.S. beef imports containing growth-promoting
hormones was not scientifically based. Despite the retaliatory tariffs, the EU still has not
lifted its ban.14
CRS Report RS20088, Dispute Settlement in the World Trade Organization: An Overview; and
CRS Issue Brief IB21709, U.S.-European Union Trade Relations: Issues and Policy Challenges.