In the final week of October, the United States reached an agreement that will resume beef trading with Japan and, in principle, with Taiwan.

Japan accounted for the largest market for U.S. beef and beef products with sales in 2003 totaling $1.7 billion before a detection of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) from an imported cow in December 2003 suspended trade for ten months. Following three days of negotiations, Japan agreed to revise its domestic regulations that alter its BSE cattle testing requirements while the U.S. agreed to establish rules concerning imported Japanese specialty beef.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that, prior to the interruption, export sales of cattle to Japan totaled 10 percent of the total U.S. production. USDA secretary Ann Veneman said a new marketing program with Japan would be reviewed after six months for any further fine-tuning. “This is very important milestone in our returning to normal after finding the case of BSE in the United States,” Veneman said. “We have put significant measures in place to further strengthen our already strong food safety system.”

In 2003, Taiwan’s purchases of U.S. beef and ruminant products amounted to some $325 million before trade ceased. A delegation of Taiwan experts is scheduled to visit the U.S. for on-site inspections beginning Nov. 10, ideally the last necessary step before trading returns.

Veneman said the USDA trade representatives are also attempting to re-establish additional, similar trade agreements in other Asian countries, including Korea. “We are continuing our market opening efforts in the remaining key countries. Our goal is a return to normal beef trade as quickly as possible,” she said.