Japan was once the top beef export customer for the United States. But that was before December of 2003, when the first case of BSE in the U.S. prompted Japan to close its market to U.S. beef. While the market is gradually moving back to that number one position - the U.S. is currently limited to selling beef from animals 20 months of age or younger.
U.S. Meat Export Federation President and CEO Phil Seng recently met with Japanese officials, and says he saw some positive signs.
"It's my impression that the Japanese are willing to engage the United States as far as these beef negotiations," Seng said. "So really I think that we have to really work to get our government to re-engage on these issues."
Seng notes U.S. officials haven't met with Japanese officials since January. He says it's the same story when it comes to China.
"So what we need to do is convey this strong sense of urgency because right now with these markets growing like they're growing we are missing out on this huge opportunity," Seng said. "We are estimating not having full access to Japan and China is leaving about $1 billion on the table a year for the meat industry, for the beef industry, so this is unconscionable this can go on year after year."
According to Seng, the U.S. government must not only meet with and engage the folks in China and Japan, but needs to show a willingness to take a staged approach, much like the U.S. did with Canada.
"When the United States opened up to Canada it was 30 months boneless, then bone-in and then of course it was all," Seng said. "That's what the Chinese want to do, that's what the Japanese want to do, and so I think we'll get to our destination faster if we do it in steps rather than throw the long ball and get it in one shot."
Bottom line, Seng says it's time for the U.S. government to step up and get the negotiations done.