April 1, 2006
The oil embargo of the early 1970s was a rude awakening to the interdependent nature of the world marketplace. Until then, Americans basically enjoyed a false sense of security as they took for granted the cheap and plentiful gasoline supply at their pumps.
Since then, gas has been a bone of contention, sparking international conflict between the have-oil and the have-not-oil nations. Back up. Since then, oil has been the catalyst for armed warfare more precisely.
It does not take a rocket scientist to determine that a product can make friends out of enemies — trade friends, at least. To that end, the world continues to revolve around interdependence. When NAFTA and GATT opened the gate for international marketing of food products, well-heeled American meat companies knocked at the door of this new opportunity, and it swung wide open. And none too soon, either, for the American meat and poultry industry, which is plagued by uncertain economic conditions and fickle consumer tastes.
To be sure, finding new solutions to tackle, or at least cope with the slowing economy, and keeping ahead of fluctuating consumer trends are twin challenges that are as perennial as spring tulips in the Midwest.
America’s increased export business with Japan dates back to 1993, when that nation dropped tariffs on beef from 60 percent to 50 percent. The final tariff reduction was tied to the 1988 agreement between the United States and Japan.
As the world’s landscape changes, especially during periods of war recovery, interdependence is a growing factor in the rule book on international relations. It is no secret that rules define life. Those who hope to play the game of life well must first understand its rules.
These days the beef industry is grappling with rules by which the Japanese government plays concerning matters of trade. The problem is that rules made in Tokyo do not necessarily translate clearly in Washington, D.C. For one thing, the political structures of the two nations do not mirror each other, despite such similar governing bodies as bicameral institutions. Politics — as we know in America — is the art of getting things done. Moreover, once politicians are elected, it takes more than an act of Congress to get rid of them.
Japanese political parties tend to change frequently under a cloud of dissent, conflict and other chaotic machinations, resulting in confusion for its citizens and the world community.
It is no wonder that Japan is in a state of flux over the best way to settle its dispute with the United States concerning the safety of its beef. Japan reportedly reshuffled the expert panel on BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) upon which its government depends for advice on the safety of U.S. beef. It seems the panel was divided on the matter of allowing U.S. beef back into the country. America regained access to the Japanese market this past December after a nearly three-year ban of U.S. beef tied to the nation’s first case of BSE. Despite the reluctance of its citizenry, the Japanese government eased the ban to allow restricted beef imports until the deal was blown, albeit unwittingly, when a U.S. veal shipment arrived with banned spinal material.
Now, it is politics as usual in Japan — whatever that means. One thing is certain. If America hopes to play the game according to Japan’s rules, somebody had better do a better job of learning what they are.