It's Difficult To Understand The Japanese Situation

Part of it is simply cultural differences. As Americans, we expect things to happen quickly -- Japan likes to move more slowly. Part of it is simply a leverage issue. The Japanese know they hold the cards, but we want and need access. So, the longer the border remains closed, the more concessions they gain. Another part is political considerations. The Japanese consumer does not trust his/her government the way the American consumer trusts USDA to safeguard the food supply.

Japan screwed up its implementation of safeguards and firewalls, and its had to overreact to regain consumer confidence. Now we are demanding it come back to a scientific basis, and there are a lot of reputations at stake. Perhaps the best analogy is that the BSE situation is similar to immigration reform -- there is enough interest in it that a politician has to tread lightly when staking out his position, and everyone wants to make it a campaign issue.

The bottom line for me: it has taken a long time to understand the Japanese motivation surrounding this issue. I've always thought of Japan as an ally. Its consumers prefer our product, and we largely don't compete with its domestic producers. The science is clear; the product is safe. As a result, I've been perplexed by the tactics employed by the Japanese.

I am just now beginning to understand this is largely about pride. It's a great way for Japan to build confidence in its product by holding up U.S. product - the recognized world leader in the market. By taking such a hard line, it validates the safety of Japanese product. Sadly, the U.S. up to this point has been more concerned about an ally's concerns than the fortunes of its own producers. Japan will not change until it knows the U.S. position has changed. -- Troy Marshall