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Trade mission explores role of U.S. beef in Japan

Participants say trade agreements key to continued success.

Japan remains a vital market for the U.S. beef industry, ranking number one for exports of U.S. beef. To learn more about the market, the Iowa Beef Industry Council (IBIC) participated in a trade mission trip to the country in November. The mission, led by the Iowa Economic Development Authority, included meetings with top import companies interested in U.S. beef.

Tamara Heim, beef farmer and IBIC elected director, and Dainna Smith, beef farmer and IBIC director, represented the interests of Iowa’s beef farmers.

“During meetings with import buyers, we learned the key to remaining in Japan is to be priced competitively with a quality product,” Heim said. “We need to understand the value of having a trade agreement in place to be able to do this.”

Currently, the U.S. has several competitors in the Japanese market, most of which have trade agreements that provide significantly lower import tariffs. However, the U.S. trade agreement allows beef to maintain and grow the market presence in Japan, IBIC said.

Smith echoed Heim’s comments about the trip, noting, “We heard from many key officials the trade agreement was imperative. Understanding the business climate and nurturing relationships is critical moving forward. If we don’t have an agreement that allows us to promote and sell beef in this market, there are other countries, such as Australia, who will.”

IBIC has a mission to expand beef’s position in the domestic and global marketplace. As such, one of the goals of the trade trip was to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities in the international market for beef to meet demand. According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) data, the value of the international markets for beef have added $277.31 value per head to a fed steer year to date.

During the trip, attendees visited a Wagyu farm operation, allowing them to see and learn firsthand how Wagyu beef is raised. The attendees also participated in an in-store promotion of U.S. beef at a local grocery store so they could experience how consumers shop for the product.

“Japan has produced a high-quality Wagyu product for many years. We need to continue to understand what our international customers want from us as farmers and work to meet the demand,” Smith said.

Heim added that it was exciting to see the Wagyu farm operation and how it compares to U.S. production. “Although there are differences, it is clear the Japanese want similar traits such as the high-quality, safe and affordable food as we do in the U.S.,” she said.

The mission was coordinated by Iowa Economic Development Authority with representatives from IBIC, Iowa Pork Producers Assn., Iowa Corn Promotion Board and several other private business professionals. Checkoff investments with USMEF assisted with many of the in-country meetings while promoting U.S. beef in these countries. The mission was partially funded by IBIC through the Iowa state beef checkoff program.

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