Japan could ease its restrictions on U.S. beef exports, moving from accepting product from cattle 20-months of age or younger currently, to up to 30-months in the future. Japan's Health Ministry is set to relax import restrictions originally set on beef from the U.S. and Canada amid fears of BSE.
National Cattlemen's Beef Association Manager of Legislative Affairs Kent Bacus says it's a positive step forward.
"The reports that were coming out of Japanese media earlier this week were that their Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry had met and were considering easing restrictions on beef imports from the United States and Canada," Bacus said. "According to those reports the Health Ministry agreed to review their current regulations and work on revising the rules by the end of November, so we are definitely going to keep an eye on that."
Bacus says the change won't happen overnight, and is more likely to be finalized in 2012. However, it would bring Japan in line with international standards and further open beef trade for the U.S.
"Some reports suggest that would make Japan easily a billion dollar market for us annually," Bacus said. "But I think it is a little early to speculate on that. I mean this is obviously the beginning of a process that is going to have to play out over there and that's why we're going to continue monitoring it. Obviously any potential to expand this great partnership must be based on science-based trade protocols."
Japan is still a top export market for U.S. beef even with the 20-month restriction. Through the end of August they've accounted for $580 million of beef exports, which is up 44% over 2010.