The progress of U.S. beef talks in Japan and South Korea may have been slowed this week. On Wednesday, the Japanese Agriculture Minister resigned - and on the same day, South Korea reported having found banned bones in a U.S. beef shipment.
Japanese Ag Minister Norihiko Akagi resigned amid financial scandals after having only held the job since the June suicide of the previous minister, also riddled with money and bribery scandals. The minister's resignation has put a planned Thursday meeting with USDA Secretary Mike Johanns on hold.
Johanns insisted in an interview Wednesday that the U.S.-Japanese working relationship "is very, very strong, and it's stronger than a single minister."
Johanns also says that U.S. representatives that headed to Tokyo this week for technical talks on beef exports will continue with those meetings. "We'll continue those technical talks and like I said, I just don't anticipate any slow-down in our efforts to try to get this market reopened," Johanns says.
Johanns also told reporters Wednesday that it was his "understanding" that South Korean inspectors found a vertebral column derived from an animal younger than 30 months of age in a shipment of U.S. beef.
However, out of some 600,000 boxes of U.S. beef sent to Korea since it resumed imports in April, Johanns says, only six have contained unauthorized material.