Washington — Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns pressed the Japanese ambassador to the United States Thursday to set a date for Japan to resume buying U.S. beef.
Japan agreed last October to lift the ban it imposed after the December 2003 discovery of the United States' only case of mad cow disease. But negotiations have slowed over the issue of how to determine the age of cattle.
"I'm confident he will express my desires immediately to his government, and I'm confident that will occur today," Johanns said after meeting for about 30 minutes with the ambassador, Ryozo Kato.
A statement issued by the embassy of Japan said Kato responded that his government "fully understands the importance of the issue, that the dialogue between the two governments is making steady progress and that necessary domestic steps need to be taken for the actual trade resumption."
Japan was the most lucrative foreign market for U.S. beef before the ban, accounting for about $1.7 billion in sales in 2003
Johanns, who requested the meeting, asked for a date for resuming beef trade but the ambassador was not prepared to give one. The new agriculture secretary said he offered to do whatever necessary, including having a USDA team work on the issue around-the-clock.
"The ambassador's response, I believe, was along the lines of, 'We understand the importance of this issue. We're going to do everything we can,' " Johanns said. "I certainly felt a willingness to work with us and to get this behind us. We both expressed that."
He said they did not discuss the issue of the U.S. resuming beef trade with Canada, which is scheduled to happen March 7.
"I see this as one step, a very important step, in establishing a candid working relationship," Johanns said. "I just want people to know that I will continue to do all I can at the highest levels of government."