Just as with South Korea, USDA is now wrangling with Japan over its desire to clear only certain U.S. beef plants for export to Japan. USDA and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) prefer a system-wide approval that would authorize all U.S. plants that meet certain standards.

"We'd rather regulate our own facilities in this country than have a foreign government come over here and try to regulate our food supply," NCBA spokesman Karen Batra said in a Dow Jones Newswire story this week.

Meanwhile, Japan held its last of 10 public hearings on U.S. beef safety Wednesday in Tokyo. The meetings held in major Japanese cities since June 1 by Japan's ag and health ministries were designed to clue in consumers regarding the ongoing talks regarding lifting the ban on U.S. beef imports. The series of meetings were said to be a lead-up to the government's decision on whether to lift the ban enacted in late December 2003, lifted in December 2005,and re-imposed in January 2006.

Meanwhile, the Japan Times reported Wednesday that leaders of four Japanese opposition parties went on the record opposing the government's "imminent decision" to lift the ban. The politicians claim such a move would be "politically motivated and would sacrifice food safety."

The article says high-ranking officials of the Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party, the Japanese Communist Party and People's New Party accused Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of "kow-towing" to the U.S. They also urged the government not to decide on the resumption on U.S. beef trade before Koizumi's meeting with President Bush, which is set for June 29 in Washington.

Meanwhile, with frustration growing over Japan's refusal to reopen its market to U.S. beef, NCBA's executive committee this week voted to support trade sanctions against Japan. NCBA supports Sen. Ben Nelson's (D-NE) legislation (S. 3364), which bans the importation of Japanese beef into the U.S. until Japan opens its markets to U.S. beef. NCBA also supports legislation to require the administration to institute ag and non-ag sanctions on Japan if trade is not resumed.
-- Joe Roybal