United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk and United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday announced that the United States and Japan have agreed on new terms and conditions which pave the way for expanded exports of U.S. beef and beef products to Japan.
Under these new terms, which enter into effect on Feb. 1, 2013, Japan will now permit the import of beef from cattle less than 30 months of age, compared to the previous limit of 20 months, among other steps.
"This is great news for American ranchers and beef companies, who can, as a result of this agreement, increase their exports of U.S. beef to their largest market for beef in Asia," Ambassador Kirk said. "This represents a significant and historic step in expanding U.S. beef trade with Japan and growing American exports and jobs here at home. We welcome Japan's action."
It is estimated that these important changes will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in exports of U.S. beef to Japan in the coming years. This agreement also goes a long way toward normalizing trade with Japan by addressing long-standing restrictions that Japan introduced in response to bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
The original ban of U.S. beef and beef products came in 2003 following the detection of BSE in the U.S. In July 2006, Japan partially reopened its market to allow imports of some U.S. beef from animals aged 20 months or younger produced under a special program for Japan.
In December 2011, at the request of Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Japan's independent Food Safety Commission initiated a risk assessment to examine raising the maximum age of the cattle from which U.S. and certain other foreign beef and beef products could be exported to Japan, as well as revising the definition of specified risk materials.
The two governments also agreed to regular and ad hoc consultations to review progress under the agreement and address any issues that may arise. In an accompanying letter exchange, Japan also confirms its 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.
"We are in the most successful period in history for America's agriculture sector, with agricultural exports this year expected to set yet another record," Secretary Vilsack said. "We will continue our efforts to break down barriers and expand access for high-quality, safe and wholesome U.S. food and agricultural products to Japan and around the world."
"This is great news for cattlemen and women and is a significant milestone in our trading relationship with Japan," said National Cattlemen's Beef Association President J.D. Alexander.
Alexander added that the agreement was an important step toward greater export opportunities. According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, Japan is currently the No. 2 market for U.S. beef exports in terms of value and No. 3 in volume (143,900 metric tons or 317.2 million pounds) valued at $969.8 million through the first 11 months of 2012.
USMEF forecasts that U.S. beef exports to Japan in 2013 as a result of expanded access to the market will increase roughly 45% in volume and value, reaching 225,000 metric tons (496 million pounds) and $1.5 billion.
"The U.S. beef industry – from farmers and ranchers to exporters – will benefit from increased exports to this premium market," said Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO. "At the same time, the trade and consumers in Japan will see a wider variety of beef products and improved availability of U.S. beef in the retail and food service channels.
Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, praised the expanded trading capacity. She first urged Ambassador Kirk and Secretary Vilsack in 2011 to address non-scientific trade barriers in Japan.
"I applaud the administration for working closely with our trade partners in Japan to address barriers on U.S. beef exports and pave the way for creating new agricultural jobs here at home," Chairwoman Stabenow said. "We produce the world's safest and highest quality beef and countries like Japan represent significant export opportunities, bolstering the brand of American agriculture around the world. Today's announcement represents a major and promising step forward."