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US beef gains full access to Japan

By Staff | May 28, 2019

Japan has agreed to lift all restrictions on U.S. beef. The USDA estimates that this expanded access could increase U.S. beef and beef exports to Japan by up to $200 million annually.



The United States, Canada and Mexico agreed to remove tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, while Japan agreed to fully lift its restrictions on American beef imports.

These trade developments were made last Friday.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue met with Japanese government officials and affirmed the importance of science-based trade rules.

According to the USDA, the new terms, which immediately took effect, will allow U.S. products from all cattle, regardless of age, to enter Japan for the first time since 2003.

In December 2003, Japan banned U.S. beef and beef products following the detection of a bovine spongiform encephalopathy-positive, or BSE, animal in the United States.

“The U.S. had its first ever mad cow disease issue, and what happens when you have an animal health issue like that is your trade agreements are threatened to a certain extent,” said Matt Deppe, CEO of the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association. “No other country wants you to accidentally bring a disease in, whether it is through a food product or otherwise, that could jeopardize their domestic production. It was at that point, the long-standing Japanese beef market basically ceased to exist.”

Two years after Japan banned U.S. beef and beef products, they 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.

“That was a big deal because it allowed us to have quite a few more opportunities when we looked at sending and exporting U.S. beef to Japan,” said Deppe.

In April 2017, Japan eliminated its age-based BSE testing on domestic Japanese cattle. This, according to the USDA, paved the way for similar age-based restrictions to be lifted on negligible BSE-risk trading partners, including the United States.

On Jan. 15, 2019, Japan’s Food Safety Commission (FSC) concluded eliminating the age restriction for beef from the United States, Canada and Ireland posed only a “negligible” risk to human health.

“The U.S. believes in science based-trade, following standards,” Deppe said. “When it comes down to it, we have been discussing with the Japanese for quite some time working on this opportunity to its fruition last week with the announcement.”

He added the U.S. trade representatives have been leading discussions with the help of several trade organizations.

What does this exactly mean for Japan and the U.S. beef industry?

“It will provide more opportunity for the Japanese to purchase a broader selection of U.S. beef products,” he said. “When you look at solidity in terms of trade agreements, just the actual transaction of chilled beef going from the U.S. to Japan, it is one less hurdle that could present some problems with that trade agreement.”

Deppe said he looks at the value of an export market.

“U.S. beef exports represent, for the last couple of years, over $300 of the gross value of a fed steer; the Japanese market being the most significant value representative of that market,” he said. “It’s very vital to the foundation of U.S. beef.”

The USDA 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 the country further aligns its import requirements with international standards for BSE.

“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 beef,” said Perdue. “We are hopeful that Japan’s decision will help lead other markets around the world toward science-based policies.”

Deppe said it is now time to see the USMCA approved in addition to further agreements with Japan.

“Iowa cattlemen are also eager to see USMCA ratified, and encourage the administration to work on a bilateral trade agreement with Japan that will further benefit Iowa cattle producers by reducing the tariff advantage Australia currently enjoys,” he said.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture,Mike Naig shared his thoughts of trade announcements from last week in a statement.

“I’m encouraged by the trade news coming out of Washington,” he said. “With the steel tariffs lifted, this is the time for Congress to approve the USMCA. The passage will protect our relationships with two of our biggest ag trading partners, Canada and Mexico. Japan is also a valuable trading partner for Iowa livestock producers, and now they will have the opportunity to sell beef products without restrictions.”

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