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Does A New Japanese Ag Minister Equal New Hope?

Japan introduced another ag minister this week, which begs the obvious question: "Will the leadership change slow up the process of liberalizing Japan's market to U.S. beef products?" The answer is undoubtedly yes.

There's little question that Japan will move much slower on this issue than what U.S. traders feel is acceptable. Still, the science is clearly on the U.S. side.

More fully opening its market to U.S. beef is a major political issue in Japan, and no ag minister can appear to be caving to U.S. political pressure. For one thing, the failures of Japan's government in effectively dealing with the BSE issue when it first broke on the islands in fall 2001 won't be soon forgotten by its citizens, which means Japan will be exceedingly cautious in its approach.

Though science favors the U.S. position, that doesn't mean political pressure isn't a good thing. But keep in mind that our timeline in dealing with Canada hasn't been a whole lot different than Japan's in dealing with the U.S. In U.S. dealings with Canada, the implementation of sound science has been slowed greatly by our own domestic political considerations. It appears everyone wants a science-based approach, but nobody will ignore the political climate to do it.

With elections looming in South Korea, politics is also hampering liberalization of that market to U.S. beef. Of course, it hasn't helped that U.S. processors continue to make major mistakes in shipping banned product to Korea.

Still, the level of demand for U.S. beef has been surprising. As a result, when you hear stories that U.S. beef has been out of the Japanese market for so long that the Japanese consumer developed a taste for Australian grass-fed beef, listen with a healthy dose of skepticism. My kids and I may settle for mashed potatoes out of a box when my wife is away from home, but that doesn't mean we prefer them to her home-cooked variety.

TAGS: Exports