Japan Relaxing Age Limit on Beef Imports

2/2/2013 7:00 AM

Japan is relaxing its age limit on U.S. beef imports as soon as this Friday (Feb. 1). This would be after explaining the decision to the public, Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said early last week.

Japan’s Food Safety Commission last September recommended raising the age limit of cattle from under 21 months to under 30 months. Its recommendation then went to the Health Ministry.

The proposed change will apply to beef imports from the U.S., Canada, France and the Netherlands.

However, the change might not take effect for several months. Although the specific logistical details on resolving access issues must be addressed, the change is expected to be finalized in the first half of 2013, says Phil Seng president and CEO of the U.S Meat Export Federation.

These details likely include protocols regarding verification and certification of cattle age, what occurs in the event of a shipping error and other matters.

Once these details are finalized, any increase in shipments will depend more on the price of U.S. beef than any other factor, analysts say.

The relaxation comes 7.5 years after Japan resumed U.S. beef imports, which had been blocked following the U.S.’s first BSE case in December 2003.

The further relaxation of restrictions might eventually lead to Japan becoming the No. 1 export market for U.S. beef for the first time since then.

The U.S. that year exported 376,000 metric tons of cuts and variety meats to Japan worth $1.39 billion. This made Japan No. 1 in volume (29.5 percent of total exports) and value (36.1 percent).

The change will provide a major boost to U.S. beef exports, Seng says.

In 2000, U.S. exports to Japan reached 524,224 metric tons valued at $1.77 billion, accounting for 43 percent in volume and 50 percent in value of all U.S. beef exports that year. At the same time, the U.S. was supplying 53 percent of Japan’s beef imports.

Interestingly, the majority of the lost volume of U.S. beef sales to Japan was not picked up by other beef exporting nations, which sell primarily grass-fed beef, he says.

So the void in the Japan market (2012 imports from all suppliers was roughly 575,000 metric tons compared with 857,715 in 2000) is an opportunity for the U.S. to regain lost sales to the highest margin market in the world, he says.

Pennsylvania Center for Beef Excellence Inc. with information from the CME Report, Cattle Buyers Weekly and other resources. For more information, call 717-705-1689.

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