Transcript of Remarks by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and United States Trade Representative Ambassador Rob Portman Hong Kong December 12, 2005 | USDA Newsroom
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Release No. 0548.05
Press Office (202}720-4623

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Transcript of Remarks by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and United States Trade Representative Ambassador Rob Portman Hong Kong - December 12, 2005

MODERATOR: Good morning from Washington. I'm Larry Quinn speaking to you from the Broadcast Center of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Welcome to today's news conference to discuss the resumption of beef trade with Japan. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns is joining us by live audio connection from Hong Kong where he is participating in a World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference.

He is joined today for this news conference by U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Rob Portman.

A reminder for reporters, if you have questions for the secretary or the ambassador, please press *1 on your telephone touch pad to alert us.

And now it's my pleasure to introduce Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

SEC. MIKE JOHANNS: Thank you, Larry. And good morning, everyone, back in the states. I am very pleased to be joined tonight by our U.S. trade representative, Rob Portman. And we are very pleased to announce that the Japanese market is now open to U.S. beef.

Resuming beef trade with Japan is great news for American producers, and I would also suggest it's great news for Japanese consumers. It's an important step toward normalized trade based on scientifically sound, internally recognized standards.

Reopening the Japanese market to U.S. beef has been a top priority since becoming Secretary, and I want to thank the many people and organizations that were involved in the process.

First and foremost, I do thank President Bush for being personally and directly engaged. I also thank my colleagues on the cabinet, Secretaries Rice, Snow, Gutierrez, and of course Ambassador Portman, Ambassador Baker, and Ambassador Schieffer for making this issue a centerpiece of our discussions with Japan.

I also want to express my appreciation to Chairmen Goodlatte and Chambliss and the entire American meat industry and all of the USDA staff that worked on this issue.

Japan's action today sets an example for other countries in Asia whose markets remain closed. Now is the time for Taiwan and South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and others to open their markets to U.S. beef. I urge all countries to take a science-based approach and adopt the OIE standards for allowing beef trade in this area.

Building bridges of understanding, collaboration between nations is an important part of ensuring food safety. American producers are proud of their safe, high quality beef products, and we greatly value the opportunity to promote the safety of our products to consumers in Japan and around the world.

As I have said many times during this process, our goal is the resumption of normal beef trade throughout the world, and we will continue to work aggressively on that goal.

Just a couple quick statistics. Under the agreement announced today the United States is able to export beef from cattle 20 months of age and younger to Japan. More than 94 percent of total U.S. ruminant and ruminant products with an export value of $1.7 billion in 2003 are now eligible for export to Japan.

In 2003 the United States did export $1.4 billion worth of beef and beef products to Japan, so it is a very important market to us.

With that, I will turn to the Ambassador, and he will offer some thoughts, and then we will be happy to take any questions that you might have.

Mr. Ambassador.

AMB. ROB PORTMAN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. This is U.S. Trade Rep Rob Portman, and this is a great day for Japanese consumers and also of course for American farmers and ranchers.

It's a great day because under the leadership of Secretary Johanns we now see an opening in the Japanese market for U.S. beef. We've worked on this diligently over the last couple of years. Secretary Johanns has led the effort. We've provided all the necessary data and assurances to the Japanese government and its citizens to ensure that they know that our U.S. beef is safe.

We look forward to continuing these efforts to fully open the Japanese market to U.S. beef and beef products consistent with international health standards. This has been again an effort by the entire Bush administration; a number of agencies have been involved. We made this a critical priority, and today is a result of those concerted efforts.

We must say that the international standards of the organization for health, for animal health, need to be complied with, not just by Japan but other of our trading partners as well. These international standards recognize that beef can be traded safely; countries have obligations under the World Trade Organization to base their animal and human health measures on these internationally accepted and scientific standards.

There are now 70 countries open to U.S. beef. I encourage our other trading partners to move forward expeditiously to normalize trade in beef.

And again, congratulations to you, Mr. Secretary.

And we look forward to any questions you might have.

SEC. JOHANNS: Larry, I think we're ready for questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. If you would like to ask a question please indicate by pressing *1 on your telephone touch pad. Otherwise, we will not know that you have a question to ask. And we are waiting for a question. Anyone having a question, please press *1 at this time. Anyone with a question for the Secretary or the Ambassador?

Our first question, Mr. Secretary, is from Tony Purcell of Texas State Network. Tony, go ahead, please.

REPORTER: -- for the Texas cattle industry. You said that the goal is normalized trade with the Far East. Now we know that we're not going to be able to immediately ship the volume of beef that we did before the ban. What's your best guess as to how much beef we'll be able to send over there in 2006?

SEC. JOHANNS: At this point that's exactly what it would be, a best guess. And I hesitate to even go there because that probably will set a marker that I may regret at some point. What I can offer is this. We know of many plants across the United States who have been anticipating this day. They are prepared to deal with the requirements, the export verification requirements.

And so I am optimistic. I think the industry will adjust very quickly. Beef under 20 months will start moving through these plants and then to Japan.

So without trying to assign a number to it, just by some anecdotal information that we're receiving out there I think we'll have plants ready to go.

And I think they're ready to go right away. I offered a thought that occurs to me that we'll be shipping beef into Japan within the next week to 10 days, and I don't think that's overly optimistic. I think that can be accomplished.

MODERATOR: Our next question comes from Daniel Goldstein from Bloomberg. Dan?

REPORTER: Yeah, hi. Thank you very much. Just a couple of things. What is the next step, I guess, after this? Are we looking to expand the agreement to 30 months on all cattle, or are we looking to get beef into some of the other countries such as Hong Kong and Korea?

And also just another question is, what is the percentage of beef that's actually going to be able to be age-verified versus using the A40, I guess the substitute grade? If you can answer that, that would be great.

SEC. JOHANNS: I'll ask Terri Teuber if she can put the information together on that last question. And in terms of what you are asking, all of the above.

We are going to continue to engage with Japan on just simply working with the international standards. I mean that is what we live by; that's what we ask our trading partners to live by. But having said that, we are also very committed to working with other countries to open up their borders.

I can tell you that I've already had discussions here, while I've been in Hong Kong, on this issue with other trading partners. And so the answer is, we're going to continue to work to normalize beef trade based upon international standards. That means opening borders, and that means asking our trading partners to work within those standards also.

MODERATOR: Reporters, if you do have a question please indicate by pressing *1 on your telephone touch pad.

Asking our next question will be Chris Clayton from DTN. Chris?

REPORTER: Thank you for taking questions, Secretary Johanns. I have a question about tariff, and has there been any assurances from Japan that there will not be any kind of snap-back tariff either this year or next year regarding U.S. beef exports?

SEC. JOHANNS: I can offer that we are talking to Japan about that and trying to work through that issue. We recognize that because of the fact that there hasn't been much trade with Japan, well really no trade in the last couple years in terms of U.S. beef, that we've got an issue there. So we are engaged on that issue, and we're going to do everything we can to try to deal with that.

MODERATOR: Our next question comes from Kaori from NHK. Go ahead, please.

REPORTER: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. A follow-up question on the first question. When will be your request to the Japanese government to go to the international standard? And also the Japanese government doesn't seem to think beef export will begin until way later this month. How quickly will the USDA move on qualifying plans for the (EV) program? Can you talk about the process a bit?

SEC. JOHANNS: We're ready to move immediately. We anticipated that we were running near the end of the process for Japan, and I'd said that some weeks ago that my study of the process indicated that we literally were reaching the end in reaching the final decision point. We now have that point.

But having said that, that group is to look at plants. But they've done that before. We've already laid the groundwork. And so I'd be a little more optimistic than that. I believe we can have beef moving toward Japan and in Japan again I would say within the next week to 10 days.

REPORTER: What about the international standard part? When will you --

SEC. JOHANNS: Oh, we have continued to engage Japan in that, and we will continue to do so. That's been a part of our discussions from the very beginning, and so that's not something that was ignored. It hasn't been at all. The USDA, right before I arrived, agreed to start with 20 months just simply to start some beef moving into Japan. But we have and we will continue to engage them on compliance with all of the OIE standards on the trade for beef.

MODERATOR: Mr. Secretary, there being no further questions, do you have any final comments today?

SEC. JOHANNS: No. I just want to wrap up and express my appreciation to all who have been a part of this and especially Ambassador Portman. He's worked this issue very, very diligently. And we appreciate it

Thank you, everyone. And we'll talk to you soon from Hong Kong.

MODERATOR: Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns.

I'm Larry Quinn bidding you a good day from Washington.