Japan’s beef import restrictions under review: Feds

Japan’s planned review of its domestic and import regulations for beef could bode well for Canadian producers’ access to that country’s beef market, federal officials say.

Canada’s ag department reported Friday that Japan’s review includes plans for public hearings and a risk assessment by that country’s Food Safety Commission will be conducted on each exporting country.

"We welcome Japan’s decision to review their import policy on beef and we expect by taking a science-based approach to this process, Japanese customers will benefit from expanded access to Canada’s safe, high quality beef," Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in a release.

"We will continue to collaborate with Japanese officials so that this review proceeds as quickly as possible and so that our beef producers can continue to strengthen their bottom line through increased trade."

"We welcome this development and look forward to Japan making an informed decision, based on scientific evidence," International Trade Minister Ed Fast said in the same release.

Japan originally shut its ports to Canadian beef in 2003 following the discovery that May of Canada’s first domestic case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in an Alberta cow, and clamped down on U.S. beef later that year.

Japan agreed in late 2005 to reopen to Canadian beef and beef products, but limited its imports to beef from cattle 20 months of age or younger.

The announcement follows a report in late October from the Tokyo-based Kyodo News agency that Japan would soon draft revised rules to allow beef from Canadian and U.S. cattle 30 months of age or younger.

The draft rules would pave the way for the eased restrictions to take effect sometime in the first half of 2012, Kyodo reported.

The news agency said proposals to raise the age ceiling were "believed to reflect Tokyo’s intention to adhere more strictly to scientific grounds and to seek to ease restrictions imposed by many countries on Japanese farm products over fears of radioactive contamination in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis" in March.

Last year’s exports of Canadian beef from cattle under 21 months old to Japan were valued at $81.4 million. "A significant increase in exports is expected with expanded access," the Canadian government said Friday.

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