US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said he intends to seek Japan’s early resumption of US beef imports when he meets his Japanese counterpart Shoichi Nakagawa in London.
Speaking to reporters after addressing a farm forum, Johanns said he will ‘‘expeditiously’’ respond to Japan’s requests made this week for additional information regarding a US investigation over an ineligible shipment that led Japan to re-impose an import ban on US beef in January.
While also repeating his intention to accept Japanese inspections of US beef-processing plants, Johanns said, ‘‘There is a point at which we need to address this issue,’’ of resuming imports.
‘‘It is not a good situation (for the ban to continue) now that the investigations are done,’’ Johanns said.
‘‘I want to express again (during the talks with Nakagawa) that our hope is that we can answer their questions, do it expeditiously, address the requirements they talked about additional inspections, and then work toward the reopening of the border,’’ he said.
Johanns and Japan’s Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Nagakawa are expected to hold talks on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting of six major players in the global negotiations under the World Trade Organization starting March 10 in London.
Japan reinstated its import ban on US beef Jan. 20 after a spinal column, prohibited under a bilateral accord due to a risk of mad cow disease, was found in a veal shipment at Narita airport.
The incident increased concern in Japan about the safety of US beef, mainly among consumer groups, as it came only a month after Japan lifted the original two-year-old ban on condition that imports are limited to meat from cattle aged up to 20 months with brains, spinal cords and other risk materials removed before shipping.
The US Department of Agriculture submitted the investigation report to Tokyo last month, admitting a flaw in its inspection system for exports to Japan and vowing to take various corrective measures.
But Japan called it ‘‘insufficient’’ and submitted a list of questions.
In the report, the USDA maintained the incident was a ‘‘unique’’ case in which the exporters and inspectors for the first veal shipment to Japan were not adequately familiar with the export requirements.
The USDA also stressed the shipped veal posed no health risk under US safeguard standards, which require removal of risk materials only from cattle aged 30 months and older. (Kyodo News)