Tokyo meat market

U.S. beef and pork producers tour a Japanese meat market.

U.S. Meat Export Federation took a team of livestock producers to Japan to give them an overview of the market and show them how the organization is promoting U.S. meat.

“It’s been a jam-packed, fantastic week,” Cevin Jones, an Idaho cattle feeder and USMEF chairman-elect, said during a conference call from Tokyo on Thursday.

It’s great to see all the programs USMEF is doing in Japan and how checkoff dollars are being utilized to promote U.S. meat, he said.

The group had just come from a seminar where more than 300 existing and potential customers could sample U.S. meat products and learn about product availability and meat production trends.

The seminar allowed the team to meet with buyers, tell them what producers do in the U.S. and move the needle on U.S. meat exports, he said.

“It’s really been tremendous,” Dave Preisler, CEO of the Minnesota Pork Board, said.

Business is done person-to-person and business-to-business. Countries can set trade rules, but people make it happen, he said.

Over half the calories consumed in Japan are imported. Why not have that come from the Upper Midwest and bring dollars back to rural communities? he asked.

The key to growing U.S. meat exports is differentiating U.S. product from competitors’ product, Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO, said.

There is a huge difference in the meat from grain-fed animals and grass-fed animals, he said.

Branding, telling a story, is another focus for USMEF. Consumers want new brands and a new story, he said.

The tentative trade agreement between the U.S. and Japan is fueling a lot of enthusiasm in Japanese customers, he said.

U.S. beef is at a 12% tariff disadvantage in Japan, and pork is at a 7% disadvantage. Customers are enthusiastic about U.S. meat getting on a level playing field sooner rather than later, he said.

Japanese buyers are excited about the pending trade agreement, Dean Meyer, director of Iowa Corn Growers Association and USMEF executive committee member, said.

Livestock is the top consumer of corn, and corn growers have partnered with USMEF to export meat, he said.

The team was also able to visit with consumers and they are excited about eating corn-fed pork and beef, he said.

“It’s an exciting time here for red meat exports,” he said.

The tariff disadvantage is having an impact on beef exports to Japan — which have gone a little slack compared with last year, Jones said.

Japanese buyers are price sensitive. If the tariff differential gets corrected, it’ll put U.S. exports in good shape for next year, he said.

The outlook is positive on increased growth of U.S. meat exports. The U.S. is well positioned to supply increased protein demand, and not just in Japan, Halstrom said.

Japan is the largest value destination for U.S. beef and pork exports, representing 25% of both U.S. beef and pork exports on a value basis. The U.S. exported $2.1 billion in beef and $1.6 billion in pork to Japan in 2018.

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