Posted on Mon, Nov. 01, 2004
A campaign ploy?
Harkin: Plan isn't what 'meets the eye'
By Jerry Hagstrom
Special to Agweek
WASHINGTON Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, the highest-ranking Democrat on the
Senate Agriculture Committee, told Agweek Oct. 26 that the Bush
administration's announcement of a plan to restore the U.S. beef trade
with Japan is a campaign ploy that is unlikely to result in a quick
resumption of trade.
In a statement e-mailed to Agweek, Harkin said, "The administration was
obviously in a hurry to announce something before the election regarding
the ban on U.S. beef exports to Japan, but in this rush it has delivered
less than meets the eye."
Harkin pointed out that the USDA headline claimed "U.S.-Japanese
Officials Conclude Agreement for Resumption of Beef Trade," but the text
of the announcement called it a "framework agreement" the same term that
was used for the agreement World Trade Organization negotiators reached
on agriculture last summer when they could not agree on details. "In
both cases, negotiators have agreed on further negotiations," Harkin
said, adding, "USDA acknowledges there are 'a lot of details that must
be worked out.' These are not small details, and clearly there will be
no deal until they are resolved in what will surely continue to be tough
negotiations. Consequently, there is still no assurance U.S. beef
producers and processors will resume selling beef in Japan's market."
USDA and Japanese officials announced Oct. 23 that the two countries had
agreed on the "framework" agreement for restoration of the beef trade
between the two countries. Each country bans the other's beef because of
the presence of mad cow disease in both countries. But the agreement
said Japan would import beef from the United States only if the United
States could prove that the beef comes from animals 20 months or age or
younger. The agreement left the decision on what Japan would accept as
proof of age to further negotiations. Japan has asked for birth
certificates of the animals, but U.S. officials want to use the
tenderness of meat and the age of bones and teeth as proof. Harkin also
said it is "becoming increasingly clear that U.S. meat and livestock
producers and the entire industry are at a disadvantage because our
nation lacks an animal identification system. It is critical that USDA
move more quickly to develop and implement a sound national plan that is
workable and affordable for livestock producers."
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the Democratic presidential candidate, said in
Philadelphia on Oct. 25, "It's good that we got this agreement, but it
should have been done sooner. If Bush had been steadfast in protecting
the safety of the food supply and our livestock from animal diseases,
they would have been more quickly able to satisfy Japan's concerns.
George Bush's failed leadership on food safety has cost the American
economy dearly and has had a devastating affect on the way of life for
family farmers and ranchers across the country."
USDA made the announcement Oct. 23 with great fanfare. The National
Cattlemen's Beef Association, which has endorsed President Bush, issued
a news release praising the administration for its negotiations. But
prices have not gone up on the beef futures market, an indication that
the market was not impressed with the agreement. In addition, Canadian
beef industry officials have suggested that the agreement could work
better for Canada, whose beef trade also has been cut off, because
Canada has a system of livestock identification.
Harkin also noted that the agreement's provision for the resumption of
the trade in Japanese specialty beef products to the United States would
require a lengthy U.S. government rulemaking process. Scientists
consider the threat of mad cow disease to be much higher in Japan
because Japan has had 14 cases of mad cow disease compared with one in
the United States that came from a Canadian-born cow. It is unclear
whether Japan would insist that the United States accept its beef before
it would accept U.S. imports.