Japan opens door to more U.S. beef

Japan has removed all age restrictions on beef imported from the U.S.

USDA announced on Friday U.S. beef will now have full access to Japanese markets for the first time in more than 15 years.

The U.S. and Japan have agreed on new terms and conditions that eliminate Japan’s restrictions on U.S. beef that have been in place since December 2003, USDA stated.

Those restrictions followed the detection of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in a Washington state dairy cow.

At that time, Japan immediately banned U.S. beef and beef products, and U.S. exports plummeted from nearly 375,500 metric tons and $1.4 billion in 2003 to 517 metric tons and $2.9 million in 2004.

Japan restored partial access in 2005, allowing U.S. beef muscle cuts and offal items from cattle 20 months of age and younger. In 2013, the nation expanded access to include beef and beef products from cattle less than 30 months.

The new terms, which take effect immediately, allow U.S. products from all cattle regardless of age.

The U.S. has slowly rebuilt markets in Japan over the years, shipping 330,215 metric tons of beef — still below 2003 levels — to Japan in 2018 at a value of $2.08 billion.

USDA estimates the new expanded access will increase U.S. exports by up to $200 million annually.

The announcement follows on the heels of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s trip to the G20 Agriculture Ministerial Meeting in Japan.

Groups representing U.S. beef were quick to respond to Friday’s announcement.

“This is great news for American cattle producers, and Secretary Sonny Perdue and the Trump administration deserve a lot of credit for helping knock down this non-tariff trade barrier in Japan,” said Jennifer Houston, president of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“This underscores the safety of the U.S. beef herd, and it will hopefully send a signal to other Asian nations that non-science-based trade barriers like this one should be eliminated in their countries as well,” she said.

Elimination of the age restriction is “a major step toward putting BSE in the rear view mirror when it comes to global beef trade,” said Dan Halstrom, president of the U.S. Meat Export Federation. USMEF estimates removal of the age restriction will increase U.S. beef exports to Japan by 7% to 10% and $150 million to $200 million a year.

While most of the U.S. beef shipped to Japan will continue to be from fed cattle under 30 months of age, the opportunities for over-30-month beef cuts and beef variety meat are significant, he said.

“Japanese buyers from the pre-BSE era are very familiar with these opportunities, and USMEF has been educating many others who entered the industry over the past 15 to 20 years,” he said.

But for the U.S. industry to fully capitalize on this growth opportunity, U.S. beef needs to be on a level playing field in Japan. So USMEF is also eager to see progress in the U.S.-Japan trade negotiations, he said.

Japan eliminated its age-based BSE testing on its own domestic cattle in 2017. This January, Japan’s Food Safety Commission concluded elimination of the age restriction for the U.S., Canada and Ireland posed a negligible risk to human health, USDA stated.

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