Japan Puts BSE in the Rearview Mirror

By Kayla Sargent

Amidst a turbulent trade environment, cattlemen earned a win with Japan late last week when the country agreed to remove the 30 month age restriction on U.S. beef imports.  This marks the first time since 2003 that beef from any age cattle can be shipped to Japan and could increase U.S. exports by up to $200 million annually, according to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).

“The best news today was out of Japan,” Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) President Fred Wacker said. “That’s a huge deal.  That says we can send a lot of beef there without age verification and save some money there.  It also means they could take some grind out of our full age cows and bulls so that opens up a new market for those animals.”

There is still a 38 percent tariff in place for beef going into Japan, though.  The U.S. withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Japan’s agreement on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) with countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Mexico has placed U.S. beef exporters at a disadvantage.

National cattle organizations are now shifting their focus to reduced tariffs with Japan.  The United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) applauded the USDA for “continuously pursuing additional market access opportunities for U.S. beef and securing this much needed provision with Japan,” but said the high tariff rate needs to be addressed.

“Now, we must focus on the negotiation of a bilateral trade agreement with Japan to bring down the 38.5 percent tariff the country places on our product,” USCA President Kenny Graner said.

Wacker said MSGA has also been encouraging the Administration to work out a deal between the two countries that would decrease the tariffs on beef.

“We were supposed to get something better, but that hasn’t happened yet,” he said.

Wacker is still encouraged by the recent news, despite the high tariff rate.  Japan is the largest U.S. beef export customer, accounting for 25 percent of all U.S. beef exports.  Although export levels have still not fully recovered to pre-BSE shipments of 375,000 metric tons shipped to Japan in 2003, last year saw 33,000 metric tons valued at $2.1 billion shipped by the U.S.

“At first glance, this may not seem like a large bump in what is already a $2 billion market,” U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) President and CEO Dan Halstrom said.  “There are international markets where it can take decades to reach $150 million in exports, yet in Japan we can add this new business in a very short period of time.”

While cattle organizations are praising the new market opportunity, they say the importance of this is the removal of “non-tariff barriers” that may develop into more victories in the future with other U.S. trading partners.

“This underscores the safety of the U.S. beef herd, and it will hopefully send a signal to other Asian nations that non-science-based trade barriers like this one should be eliminated in other countries as well,” National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Jennifer Houston said.

USMEF’s Halstrom called the move “a major step toward putting BSE in the rearview mirror when it comes to global beef trade.”


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