Michael Sommers, special assistant to President Bush for ag, trade and food assistance, told BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly that though he can't label the reopening of U.S. beef trade with Japan in mid December as being a "sure thing," he called it a "90%" done deal that "U.S. beef will begin to flow to Japan by mid December."

Major commitments are likely to come out of a planned meeting next week in Kyoto between President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi, says Sommers, who serves as a member of the National Economic Council staff. Sommers was in St. Paul, MN, this week to speak before the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council annual meeting.

Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ryozo Kato told Senate Ag Committee Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) last weekend that Japan likely will decide in mid-December to resume imports of U.S. beef, the Kyodo News reported this week. The way was cleared with the recent finding by a panel of Japanese scientists that the risk of BSE being found in North American beef is "extremely low." Following a 28-day comment period, Japan was to rule on the status of U.S.-Japanese beef trade.

Regarding Japan's two-year-old ban on U.S. beef imports, a Kyodo News report this week quoted an official of Japan's Ministry of Ag, Forestry and Fisheries as saying: "We hope to manage to give a Christmas present to the U.S."

Actually the framework for resumption of U.S. beef trade to Japan was hammered out in October 2004. The agreement stipulated that only product from U.S. beef animals 20 months of age or younger would be eligible for export. From there progress stalled, however. For instance, it took five months for Japan to ease its 100% inspection rule for all Japanese domestic cows, a condition that was necessary for resumption of North American imports.

Just what the Japanese consumer response to resumed U.S. beef exports will be is still a question. The Kyodo News cited a poll this week conducted in October by the Internet polling firm, Interwired Co. The poll of 6,003 respondents found more than 60% somewhat concerned about the resumption of U.S. beef imports, the newspaper said. A total of 41.5% indicated an unwillingness to buy U.S. beef, and 22.5% indicated they would be willing to purchase U.S. beef. The remaining 36% were uncertain.