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Jun 24, 2004
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More work needed on Japan to turn Asian tide
this document web posted: Thursday, September 30, 2004 20040930p58

By Barbara Duckworth
Calgary bureau

Japan may be convinced to relax some of its demands for BSE testing of imported beef.

Disagreement over the need for universal testing of beef animals is the biggest hindrance to resuming trade with Canada and the United States, said Tomoshige Sakamoto. The director of the Canada Beef Export Federation office in Tokyo spoke at the annual meeting in Calgary Sept. 24.

He suggested the Japanese government may not require testing of animals 20 months or younger, as long as the age can be proven and all specified risk materials are removed.

Simon Simosaka, an executive with Starzan, a major Japanese meat company, said the business sector wants this issue settled.

"We want to see the BSE issue resolved quickly for the benefit of exporters and importers based on clear scientific grounds," he said.

His company supplies beef patties to Japan McDonald's. Prior to Canada's BSE case, Starzan was a major buyer of Canadian beef.

Importers have switched to Australian and New Zealand beef but inventories remain tight and prices are rising.

"Demand for oceanic beef has been shrinking ... because its quality does not merit the high prices and prices on certain items are far below import cost," he said.

Canadian beef filled about four percent of Japan's requirements but Simosaka said the border is likely to open simultaneously to Canada and the U.S.

"For the time being, there appears to be no reliable short-term prospect that imports of Canada and U.S. beef will resume," he said.

Other Asian customers like Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong are relying on Japan to establish the new trade order. They too are facing beef shortages and higher prices.

Taiwan imports 90 percent of its beef. Most is coming from Australia, said Gene Chang of the Taiwan chefs' union.

Western style steak restaurants made portions smaller or substituted menu items with lamb, poultry, lobster and chicken. Their costs are increasing and profits are declining.

"The BSE situation is tolerable to the chefs but they wish for some high quality, cheap beef," he said.

However, there is a split among Taiwanese consumers. People younger than 40 are willing to eat beef but the older population is not interested.

He suggested Canada promote the nutritious aspects of beef to the younger population.

China and Hong Kong are still negotiating imports of semen and embryos before examining beef imports, said federation representative Lydia Chan.

Canadian beef is moving into the principality of Macau at a brisk rate, said Banyon Wong of Wilson International Frozen Foods in Hong Kong. His company imports frozen goods for restaurants, supermarkets, fast food outlets and traders.

He is confident beef sales and consumption will return to pre-BSE levels.

"Consumers have a short memory and want products back," he said.

South Korea is also importing more beef from Australia and New Zealand, but consumers prefer grain fed to grass fed products, said federation representative Amos Kim.

The beef trade issue needs to be resolved on many levels.

"The Canadian government needs to step up efforts to have the U.S. open the border to Canadian cattle," he said.

He also suggested Canada needs to make sure Japan and Korea do not discriminate between countries on the timing of trade resumption.

Choong-Lim Choi of the Korean Restaurant Supply Centre provides meat to 2,700 restaurants, on-line shopping sites, hotels and cable home shopping networks.

A recent poll indicated three quarters of those surveyed felt American beef was unsafe and when trade resumed they said they would not eat it.

"I don't believe this data. When the borders open, everyone will buy," said Choi.

If the borders open in 2005, it could take another year for markets to recover. He expects the number of importers to decline.

"Due to various negative factors such as BSE and bird flu, most of the meat industry is having a difficult time," he said.

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