USDA optimistic American beef exports to Asia are rebounding
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is optimistic American beef exports to Asia are on the rebound.
More than 11 months ago, most Asian countries, such as Japan, Taiwan, China and South Korea, closed their borders to American beef imports after a Washington state cow was diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as BSE or “mad cow” disease.
J.B. Penn, USDA undersecretary for farm and foreign services, told reporters at a tele-news conference in Washington Tuesday that his agency is working hard to restore the confidence of Asian government in American beef.
“We have worked with our Mexican and Canadian counterparts, and those markets are largely open again,” Penn said. “Thus far we have recovered $1.7 billion of the trade in still-closed markets. So to date we have whittled the 64 percent that was closed down to 41 percent.”
Before the mad cow case, U.S. trade in beef products totaled $7.5 billion in 2003. Japan was the largest U.S. beef importer by value.
The USDA recently negotiated a plan with the Japanese government to develop an interim trade program that involves shipping beef from cows that are 20 months of age or less. Together, the USDA and Japanese government, along with input from the World Organization for Animal Health, will review this arrangement in July 2005.
“Now I know the key question, certainly the one that’s most frequently asked is, how soon will products start to move?” Penn said. “We can’t say exactly, and that’s because several steps have yet to be completed. The Japanese are in the midst of revising their domestic regulations and procedures concerning BSE and animal testing.”
Penn said similar negotiations are underway with Taiwan, South Korea and China.
U.S. beef shippers, however, believe the road to recovery in Asia will take a while.
“The next year or two will be especially challenging to USMEF (U.S. Meat Export Federation) and those of us who believe in the value of exporting beef,” Alan Smith, chairman of the federation, told members of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association at a their annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas.
“We will be asked to reintroduce a product with a great track record for taste and safety whose reputation has been tainted in the minds of many international consumers,” Smith added.
U.S. poultry exports are also expected to rebound to Asia after being banned by many countries in early 2004 due to an outbreak of avian influenza that broke out in several locations in the United States.
Penn said he was “pleased to report” Tuesday that the Chinese government has lifted its ban on imports of U.S. live poultry and poultry products.