SAM HANANEL Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON A skeptical group of U.S. lawmakers said Wednesday that Congress is ready to seek economic sanctions against Japan if it does not reopen its markets to American beef, despite Japan’s pledge hours earlier to lift the ban. Legislation introduced by Sens. Kent Conrad, DN.
D. , and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., calls on the Treasury Department to impose tariffs on Japanese exports if Japan fails to reopen its domestic market to U.S. beef by Aug. 31. “The job is not done until the beef is moving and shipped to Japan,” Roberts said. “We are introducing this bill to really keep their feet to the fire.” Venting years of frustration over the dispute, Conrad said he hopes sanctions are not necessary but warned that lawmakers stand ready to make Japan pay for the negative impact the ban is having on U.S. beef producers. “We remember all too well what has happened in the past when assurances were made that they would open the market in a timely way and more than a year later we were still waiting,” Conrad said at a news conference. “The patience of the people we represent has run out.” Japan was the United States’ largest overseas market for beef before the ban was imposed in 2003, after the first American case of mad cow disease was discovered. The ban was lifted for about a month at the end of last year, but shipments stopped again after Japanese officials discovered a violation of Tokyo’s import rules. The ban has cost the U.S. beef industry more than $3 billion in sales. Under the agreement reached early Wednesday, Japan is expected to resume U.S. beef imports by late July if Japanese inspectors find no more problems at American processing plants during a round of onsite inspections over the next few weeks. Under the trade legislation offered Wednesday, the tariffs would continue until the U.S. Trade Representative can certify to Congress that Japan has reopened its market to American beef. “In my experience, the only thing that gets Japan to Sor of the bill. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., agreed. “I am fed up with these delays, and I think most cattle producers feel the same way,” he said. In addition to being introduced as a bill, the proposal will be offered this week as an amendment to the agriculture spending bill now working its way through the Senate, Burns said. The measure already has 16 co-sponsors. Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said he skeptical of the details he’s seen from Japan so far. “It seems just like another step in a process that has been incredibly bureaucratic and filled with delay tactics by the Japanese,” he said. Kim Baker, with the Montana Cattlemen’s Association, said it’s unfair to allow Japanese teams to audit U.S. plants. She noted that Japan has had far more cases of mad cow disease than the United States has.change its mind is leverage,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., a co-spon