NOBULL: Japan widens access to U.S. beef

Japan widens access to U.S. beef

By Tom Johnston on 1/28/2013

Japan and the United States have agreed to a new deal that will vastly widen access to U.S. beef exports to that country, effective Feb. 1, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today.

Under the new terms, Tokyo will lift to 30 months from 20 months the age limit of U.S. cattle from which eligible beef products are harvested, which means some 95 percent of cattle slaughtered in the United States could qualify for export. The 20-month rule restricted access to about 20 percent of U.S. cattle.

“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.

Meat industry groups applauded the action.

“This announcement is well-deserved and long overdue,” said North American Meat Association CEO Barry Carpenter. “Accolades go to USDA and USTR for paving the way for expanded exports of U.S. beef and beef products to Japan after these many years.”

The Japanese market was the largest buyer of U.S. beef until December 2003, when the discovery of the first U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in Washington state prompted Tokyo and other foreign trade partners to close or limit their markets to U.S. beef. In July 2006, Japan partially reopened to allow imports of some U.S. beef from animals aged 20 months or younger produced under a special program for Japan.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation estimates that the U.S. beef industry lost out on some $10 billion in export sales to Japan since 2003.

Under the new terms, Washington and Tokyo agreed to regular and ad hoc consultations to review progress under the agreement. Kirk and Vilsack said Japan also has confirmed an 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 United States, taking into account international standards.

U.S. beef exports to Japan will increase some 27 percent in 2013 compared with 2012, consulting firm Global AgriTrends estimates. Through November 2012, Japan was the second-largest export market for U.S. beef, buying 130,000 metric tons totaling $849 million, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.