WASHINGTON — The United States has urged Japan to eliminate import restrictions on U.S. beef aimed at preventing the spread of mad cow disease, in the latest push from Washington to open up the Japanese market to U.S. farm imports, bilateral diplomatic sources said Friday.
The United States has called for scrapping Japan’s current restriction allowing only U.S. beef from cattle aged 30 months or younger on the grounds that the country has been internationally recognized as having the lowest risk for the disease formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the sources said.
Following the confirmation of the first known case of the disease in the United States in 2003, Japan banned U.S. beef imports. Imports resumed in 2005 by limiting them to beef from cows 20 months old or younger, and Tokyo eased the regulation in 2013, raising the cattle age limit to 30 months or younger.
The two sides are set to hold a working-level economic meeting later this month in Tokyo, with issues related to Washington’s market access to the Japanese farm sector, including over beef, set to be the main agenda item, the sources said.
In trade talks, Japan, on the other hand, has called on the United States to ease import restrictions on Japanese farm products introduced in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The U.S. request on beef imports comes after the administration of President Donald Trump protested at Japan’s imposition in August last year of the so-called safeguard tariffs in response to a surge in U.S. beef imports in the April to June quarter.
The measure, raising the tariff rate on beef from the United States, Canada and New Zealand to 50 percent from 38.5 percent for the period from Aug. 1 to March 31, came in line with World Trade Organization rules.
In the bilateral economic meeting, officials of the U.S. Trade Representative, State Department, Commerce Department and Agriculture Department are set to discuss bilateral trade issues and international trade rules with the Japanese side, the sources said.
In the second round of the high-level economic dialogue in Washington last October, Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who lead the framework, said they “would intensify work to achieve further progress in the near term on bilateral trade issues.”
The Trump administration hopes to eventually develop the high-level economic dialogue framework to a stage to negotiate a free trade agreement with Japan, the sources said.
Pence is set to visit Japan on Feb. 6 before taking part in the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea on Feb. 9. During his stay, Pence could hold talks with Aso on bilateral trade issues based on the results of the upcoming economic meeting, the sources said.
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