U.S. beef exports to Japan could increase 45 percent this year because of a change in Japanese regulations.
Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare decided on Monday to ease tough import restrictions on beef from the United States, Canada, France and the Netherlands.
The ministry made the decision after getting approval from its Pharmaceutical Affairs and Food Sanitation Council, an advisory panel of experts, on the same day. The decision will take effect on Feb. 1.
An official at the ministry’s food safety department confirmed the decision to The Journal of Commerce. Japan, which was once the largest buyer of U.S. beef, will allow imports of meat from U.S. cattle aged up to 30 months, instead of up to 20 months at present, the official said.
Japan banned U.S. beef imports immediately after a case of mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), was detected in an American herd at the end of 2003.
In 2005, Japan resumed imports of U.S. beef, but only meat from cattle aged 20 months or younger. The U.S. has been calling for relaxing the age limit.
According to data from the Denver-based U.S. Meat Export Federation, the U.S exported a total of about 1.287 million metric tons of beef, including variety meat, to the rest of the world in 2011, up 20.6 percent from 2010.
The U.S. shipped 158,646 metric tons of beef to Japan in 2011, up 27.4 percent from 2010 but still down 57.7 percent from 2003. In terms of value, U.S. beef exports to Japan totaled $874 million in 2011.
The federation predicts that because the permissible age of animals for export has been raised to 30 months, Japan’s imports of U.S. beef in 2013 will reach 225,000 metric tons, with a value of $1.5 billion, or an increase of about 45 percent in both value and volume.
Beef exports are an important cargo for ocean carriers in the trans-Pacific and command higher freight rates than most dry commodities.
The amount of U.S. beef purchased by Japan may be only a tiny fraction of overall bilateral trade, but Japan’s tough beef import restrictions have been seen by the U.S. as symbolizing the closed nature of the Japanese market in recent years.
During his meeting with Yoshihiko Noda, the then Japanese prime minister, in April last year, U.S. President Barack Obama also sought progress on the beef issue as a condition for Japan’s participation in negotiations on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.
The official at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare also said that Japan will also ease tough restrictions on beef imports from Canada, France and the Netherlands.
At present, Japan imposes a 20-month age limit on Canadian beef, and that limit also will be raised to 30 months. Imports from France and the Netherlands are currently prohibited, but meat from French cattle aged up to 30 months and from Dutch cattle aged up to 12 months will be allowed.
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