Beef move to aid TPP entry / Relaxing controls on US imports likely to boost Japan’s bid

The Yomiuri Shimbun | Sep. 7, 2012

Beef move to aid TPP entry / Relaxing controls on U.S. imports likely to boost Japan’s bid

The decision to ease regulations on imports of U.S. beef will likely provide a boost to the government’s plan of joining negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement.

An expert panel of the Cabinet Office’s Food Safety Commission has decided to relax restrictions on U.S. beef imports.

Relaxing curbs on beef imports is a move the U.S. government has strongly campaigned for. The United States has also pushed for easing in the automobile and insurance sectors.

The United States, which holds the key to Japan’s participation in the TPP talks, had demanded an easing of restrictions on the age of beef cattle imports.

It has repeatedly made demands to this effect at Japan-U.S. summit meetings and preliminary talks about Japan joining TPP talks.

The government has presented a policy to raise the limit on the age of acceptable cattle from the current 20 months old or younger to 30 months old or younger. This marks a major step toward Japan’s participation in the TPP talks.

Typically, U.S. beef is shipped when cattle are 18 months to 24 months old.

According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, cattle shipped under the current regulation at 20 months old or younger account for about 10 percent of U.S. beef cattle.

If the age limit is eased to 30 months old or younger, about 90 percent of U.S. cattle will be covered, and it represents a virtual elimination of import restrictions.

Japanese trade officials pushing for participation in the TPP talks voiced expectations that the decision will send a clear message to the United States.

But cautious views about joining the TPP talks remain deep-rooted in the government and ruling parties.

As a consensus has not been reached, the government will not announce participation in the TPP talks at a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to be held in Vladivostok, Russia.

A government source said joining the TPP talks will not be announced until "after the next House of Representatives election, rumored to be soon"—a view that is widely supported.

Retailers, restaurant chains and other concerned businesses welcomed the decision to relax the restriction.

U.S. beef can be imported in specific cuts and with wide quality and price variations.

Compared with Australian beef where the entire cow is bought, in principle, U.S. beef is easier for companies to import.

Major retail businesses regard the regulation change as a positive business opportunity. An official of Daiei Inc. said, "Because the volume of beef will increase, the market will be rejuvenated."

An official of Seven & i Holdings Co. said: "We’ll be able to sell high-quality beef as more foreign-raised beef will be available."

source: Yomiuri Shimbun