Now we must ask ourselves why the recovery took so long.

The Japanese government definitely overreacted. Although mad-cow disease is a serious concern, Japan’s severe response was far out of proportion to the size of the problem.

For years, this was essentially what we said to the Japanese. It had the virtue of being true, but it was also a mistake on our part.

We should have recognized more quickly that a different message would have served our interests more effectively. Mad-cow disease had shaken Japan’s confidence in U.S. beef. To reassure their government and consumers, we should have taken additional concrete and transparent steps right away.

Eventually, we took them. We adopted new safeguards that have improved our ability to detect threats, prevent outbreaks, and respond to challenges in a timely way.

Going forward, we’ll do a much better job of stopping interruptions in our supply chain.

I wish mad-cow disease never had reared its ugly head. But it may be possible to say there’s a silver lining to what happened: The U.S. beef industry is even better today than it was a decade ago.

And we’re well positioned to grow. The successful completion of the free-trade agreement with South Korea in 2011 has opened new export opportunities there. Now we’re ready to return with real force to Japan, which almost certainly will become the top export destination for U.S. beef. (Right now, it’s Mexico.)

Even greater trade possibilities lie ahead. Much of Asia looks to Japan for leadership, especially on regulatory issues. Japan’s acceptance of U.S. beef will lead to an immediate sales spike in Japan, and it could encourage other neighboring countries to admit more of what we export.

China is the one we really want. Right now, it doesn’t import any U.S. beef directly. With a population of 1 billion people–and most notably an emerging middle class–it represents an incredible untapped market.

We’re ready, once again, to go global.