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Goodlatte, using the diplomatic equivalent of a baseball bat

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HAY MAKER

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House Ag Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) emerged from an unsatisfactory meeting with Japanese opposition party members hinting at dramatic trade sanctions against Japan unless the market is reopened to U.S. beef.



Goodlatte, using the diplomatic equivalent of a baseball bat, compared the situation to trade in car parts. "Closing their market over a few boxes of veal," he said, "would be like the United States closing its market to Japanese automobiles because we find some defective brakes, defective steering columns, other defective things."



Later in the day, Goodlatte corked the bat and swung for the fences when he said that Japan will face "a very dramatic response" unless it quickly ends its beef ban. He said, "Our constituents are losing patience and Congress is losing patience. It is becoming more and more difficult to justify keeping our markets open when our producers don't enjoy the same benefits with other countries."




To demonstrate how much he's misread Japanese popular opinion, here's an editorial that appeared today in the Asahi Shimbun, Japan 's equivalent of the New York Times. Pay particular attention to the last paragraph. It indicates that Goodlatte's threats will be the diplomatic equivalent of a called third strike.


Consumer anxiety about the safety of U.S. beef has been further heightened by the revelation that the government reneged on its promise to send inspectors to beef processing facilities in the United States before resuming imports last December.



In response to an inquiry by a Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) legislator, the Cabinet issued a statement last November to the effect that inspectors would be sent to the United States "before and after the resumption of U.S. beef imports." However, inspectors were dispatched only once and that occurred after imports had resumed.



Shoichi Nakagawa, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, apologized during a Lower House Budget Committee meeting on Monday for failing to comply with the Cabinet directive. However, later that day, Nakagawa changed his tune.



"The U.S. beef processing facilities in question were approved by the U.S. government," Nakagawa said, adding that "responsibility lay with the U.S. government and our inspectors were not in a position to pass judgment until after imports had resumed." The farm minister was at pains to point out that this did not actually constitute a case of failing to comply with a Cabinet directive.



But it is ridiculous to blame this sorry state of affairs on a simple error in how the Cabinet statement was written. The fact that the government flip-flopped in explaining what transpired only attests to the gravity of the problem. The government now is surely paying the price for having rushed into resuming U.S. beef imports before making sufficient efforts to earn the trust of consumers.



As for U.S. authorities, they were unbelievably sloppy. Despite Washington's repeated assurances of food safety, risky beef parts such as the spinal column that are considered at high risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) were found in a Japan-bound shipment of U.S. beef imports only one month after it was resumed. Consumers must have felt that their fear came true. In our opinion, Americans at large are not as concerned as Japanese about BSE and food safety in general. We cannot blindly accept Washington 's reassurances of food safety. The Japanese government had to set up the most stringent and meticulous system for monitoring U.S. beef imports.



The day after deciding to resume the imports, the government sent an inspection team to the United States . But the members inspected only 11 of 40 processing facilities on the U.S. list of approved facilities. Furthermore, the facility that shipped the spinal column was approved and added in the list only after Japan 's inspection.



As a rule, Japanese quarantine authorities conduct only sample checks on beef imports. Thus, there is the possibility of tainted parts remaining undetected. Washington will shortly submit a report to Tokyo on the cause of the problem and countermeasures to be taken. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare had planned to study it and lift the new import ban if they believe that the safety of U.S. beef is guaranteed. But that scenario has become less feasible due to the latest revelation.



To clean up the mess created by both Washington and Tokyo , the former must come up with a really convincing report. The previous U.S. beef import ban lasted two years, during which time the U.S. Congress and the administration applied considerable pressure on Tokyo to resume imports in order to protect the livestock industry. Ultimately, it will be Japanese consumers who decide whether to accept American beef. Japan should expand the scope of its inspections of beef processing facilities in the United States , and enforce stricter quarantine. Inspections in the United States ought to be conducted more thoroughly by mixed teams of Japanese and American inspectors, and Tokyo and Washington should share the costs.



The Japanese people's distrust of Washington is compounded by their disapproval of Tokyo 's mishandling of the situation. An early end to the import ban is quite unthinkable right now. Tokyo and Washington must try their hardest to redeem their credibility.



Source:--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 1(IHT/Asahi: February 2, 2006)
 

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