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US beef allowed back in Japan

Cut and packaged meat lies in a cooler at a Tokyo store on May 19, 2006.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: It took months of negotiations and a final trans-Pacific conference call late last night, but the Japanese government's agreed to let US beef back on the market. Tokyo banned American imports more than three years ago after that case of Mad Cow disease in Washington State. Today's decision isn't the first time the ban's been lifted though, which might explain why American beef producers aren't celebrating just yet. Marketplace's Amy Scott reports.


AMY SCOTT: In the year before the boycott, American producers sold almost $1.5 billion worth of beef to Japan. You'd think the industry would be thrilled to regain what once made up 35 percent of its export market, but the reaction today was more like cautiously pleased.

Agricultural economist Erica Rosa says that's partly because of the terms. Japan will only allow meat from cows less than 21 months old with brains and spinal cords removed.

ERICA ROSA:"The amount of product here in the US that meets the strict guidelines is very small. So any impact we do see will be very minimal for our producers here."

Producers have also been through this before. An initial deal last winter fell apart after some spinal parts showed up in a veal shipment from Brooklyn. Under the new deal, Japanese officials will be allowed to inspect US plants. Industry consultant Len Steiner says that's actually fairly standard practice.

LEN STEINER:"As a matter of fact major beef buyers within the United States do the same thing to manufacturing plants. They will send in experts to look at a facility and make sure that what they're asking this plant to do it really can do."

Even if the current deal holds, the Japanese market for American beef has steadily eroded. Australia quickly stepped in to fill the gap created by the ban and surveys show most Japanese customers would prefer not to buy American meat.

Economist Allen Dever with Doane's Agricultural Report isn't worried.

ALLEN DEVER: "All we have to do is get in back in front of 'em at an attractive price, and they'll remember that it tasted good."

And in case they forget, US trade groups are already at hard at work reminding them.

In New York, I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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