U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced May 17 that the U.S. and Japan have agreed on new terms and conditions that eliminate Japan’s long-standing restrictions on U.S. beef exports, paving the way for expanded sales to the U.S.'s top global beef export market.
Last week, on the margins of the G20 agriculture ministerial meeting in Niigata, Japan, Perdue met with Japanese government officials and affirmed the importance of science-based trade rules. The new terms, which take effect immediately, allow U.S. products from all cattle, regardless of age, to enter Japan for the first time since 2003.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that this expanded access could increase U.S. beef and beef product exports to Japan by up to $200 million annually. The agreement is also an important step in normalizing trade with Japan as Japan further aligns its import requirements with international standards for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
In December 2003, Japan banned U.S. beef and beef products following the detection of a BSE-positive animal in the U.S. In December 2005, Japan restored partial access for U.S. beef muscle cuts and offal items from cattle 20 months of age and younger. In February 2013, Japan extended access to include beef and beef products from cattle less than 30 months of age.
In April 2017, Japan eliminated its age-based BSE testing on domestic Japanese cattle, paving the way for similar age-based restrictions to be lifted on trading partners of negligible risk for BSE, including the U.S. On Jan. 15, 2019, Japan’s Food Safety Commission (FSC) concluded that eliminating the age restriction for beef from the U.S., Canada and Ireland posed a negligible risk to human health. Based on the FSC risk assessment, Japan began consultations with the U.S. to revise its import requirements in order to align with the BSE guidelines of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
“This is great news for American ranchers and exporters, who now have full access to the Japanese market for their high-quality, safe, wholesome and delicious U.S. beef,” Perdue said. “We are hopeful that Japan’s decision will help lead other markets around the world toward science-based policies.”
U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) president and chief executive officer Dan Halstrom said the announcement is a major step toward putting BSE in the rearview mirror when it comes to global beef trade.
“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. 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.
USMEF estimates that removal of the cattle age restriction will increase exports to Japan 7-10%, or by $150-200 million per year. Beef muscle cuts from over-30-month cattle that are most likely to achieve success with Japanese buyers include short plate, chuck-eye rolls, short ribs, middle meats, clods and briskets. Beef variety meat items most likely to be in demand include outside skirts, hanging tenders, mountain chain tripe, tongues, abomasum and intestines. The ability to use beef from over-30-month cattle will also lower costs for companies exporting processed beef products to Japan.
However, Halstrom added, “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 anxious to see progress in the U.S.-Japan trade negotiations.”
Matt Deppe, CEO of the Iowa Cattlemen’s Assn., said, “International trade is one of our top priorities. Removing non-tariff trade barriers, such as the age restrictions on products from U.S. cattle that were previously in place, is important to increase the export value of Iowa's beef products.”
Deppe added that Iowa cattle producers are encouraging the Trump Administration to work on a bilateral trade agreement with Japan that will further benefit cattle producers by reducing the tariff advantage Australia currently enjoys.
Those on Capitol Hill also are seeking further action from the Administration on normalizing trade relations.
“Since 2003, our ranchers have been denied full access to this critical market, and I welcome the good news of the elimination of non-science-based trade barriers that will improve U.S. beef access into Japan,” Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) said. “There is more work to do. Rural America is hurting. I encourage the Administration to wrap up pending trade negotiations in a swift manner so that our farmers and ranchers can have certainty. I look forward to continuing to engage on important trade issues with the Administration.”