U.S. beef market to Japan expands
By Larry Dreiling
The U.S. and Japan have agreed on new terms and conditions that pave the way for expanded exports of U.S. beef and beef products to Japan, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Jan. 28.
Under these new terms, which went into effect on Feb. 1, Japan will now permit the import of beef from cattle less than 30 months of age, compared to the previous limit of 20 months, among other steps.
According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture release, it is estimated that these changes will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in exports of U.S. beef to Japan in the coming years. This agreement also goes a long way toward normalizing trade with Japan by addressing long-standing restrictions that Japan introduced in response to bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
"This is great news for American ranchers and beef companies, who can now--as a result of this agreement--increase their exports of U.S. beef to their largest market for beef in Asia," Kirk said. "This represents a significant and historic step in expanding U.S. beef trade with Japan and growing American exports and jobs here at home. We welcome Japan's action."
Added Vilsack: "Today's announcement reflects another successful effort by the Obama administration that boosts the bottom line for America's agriculture. We are in the most successful period in history for America's agriculture sector, with agricultural exports this year expected to set yet another record.
"We will continue our efforts to break down barriers and expand access for high-quality, safe and wholesome U.S. food and agricultural products to Japan and around the world."
The two governments also agreed to regular and ad hoc consultations to review progress under the agreement and address any issues that may arise. In an accompanying letter exchange, Japan also confirms its ongoing BSE risk assessment by its Food Safety Commission, which includes a consideration of raising the age limit above 30 months for beef and beef product imports from the U.S., taking into account international standards.
In December 2003, Japan banned U.S. beef and beef products following the detection of a bovine spongiform encephalopathy-positive animal in the U.S. In July 2006, Japan partially reopened its market to allow imports of some U.S. beef from animals aged 20 months or younger produced under a special program for Japan.
In December 2011, at the request of Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Japan's independent Food Safety Commission initiated a risk assessment to examine raising the maximum age of the cattle from which U.S. and certain other foreign beef and beef products could be exported to Japan, as well as revising the definition of specified risk materials, which are certain cattle tissues that can carry the BSE agent.
Based on an FSC risk assessment released last October, Japan entered into consultations with the United States to revise the import requirements, including raising the age limit for U.S. cattle and adopting a revised definition of SRMs for U.S. beef and beef product imports that is closely aligned with international standards of the World Organization for Animal Health.
Segments of the beef industry welcomed the announcement.
"This is an extremely positive development that successfully addresses one of the longest standing issues between our two governments," Philip Seng, U.S. Meat Export Federation president and CEO said in a statement. "The U.S. beef industry--from farmers and ranchers to exporters--will benefit from increased exports to this premium market. At the same time, the trade and consumers in Japan will see a wider variety of beef products and improved availability of U.S. beef in the retail and food service channels.
"We are grateful to the governments of Japan and the United States for their efforts to make this agreement a reality," Seng said.
The U.S. beef industry is working closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure the smooth implementation of the new agreement, the USMEF statement said.
Among the provisions of the agreement are that beef products produced before Feb. 1 must be accompanied by appropriate documentation and produced under the current export verification program. These products may not be commingled with products produced Feb. 1 or after, which must be produced under the new EV program and accompanied by the new export documentation.
"This is great news for cattlemen and women and is a significant milestone in our trading relationship with Japan," said National Cattlemen's Beef Association President J.D. Alexander.
"Japan is a great market for U.S. beef and we look forward to continuing to meet Japanese consumer demands. This move is an important step forward in paving the way toward greater export opportunities to one of our largest export markets."
Japan is currently the No. 2 market for U.S. beef exports in terms of value and No. 3 in volume (143,900 metric tons or 317.2 million pounds) valued at $969.8 million through the first 11 months of 2012--expected to top $1 billion in value for the year for the first time since 2003.
USMEF forecasts that U.S. beef exports to Japan in 2013 as a result of expanded access to the market will increase roughly 45 percent in volume and value, reaching 225,000 metric tons (496 million pounds) and $1.5 billion.
"I applaud the administration for working closely with our trade partners in Japan to address barriers on U.S. beef exports and pave the way for creating new agricultural jobs here at home," Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said in a statement.
"We produce the world's safest and highest quality beef and countries like Japan represent significant export opportunities, bolstering the brand of American agriculture around the world. Today's announcement represents a major and promising step forward."
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.