From a political standpoint, the U.S. has been unwilling to ratchet up the pressure on the South Korean and Japanese governments relative to the beef trade. These governments have ample internal and external political incentive to continue on the path they've chosen -- to reject recognized world standards for beef trade and restrict access to their markets.
The success of returning trade to some semblance of what it was prior to December 2003 may ultimately hinge on the Japanese and South Korean customer. This week, the U.S. Meat Export Federation revealed Koreans pay more for beef than any country in the world. Thanks to a lack of supply and some of the largest tariffs on beef in the world, consumers in Seoul pay the equivalent of $31/lb. for sliced chuck roll, while Japan is paying $21/lb.
In reality, the South Korean market is closed to U.S. product, while the shortage of age-verified product keeps U.S. shipments to Japan at 14% of the volume prior to the December 2003 market closure. Packers indicate the amount of beef being shipped could more than triple if supplies would allow it.
South Korea and Japan's acceptance of world-trade standards likely won't come from the application of political pressure by the U.S. (though we could certainly stand to increase it). It will come via consumers demanding access to the highest quality, safest and most cost-effective, corn-fed beef in the world.
-- Troy Marshall