U.S. beef gains full access to Japan

Beef cattle are seen in a pasture near Sebeka, Minn., in this 2016 photo. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Friday, May 17 announced that the United States and Japan have agreed on new terms and conditions that eliminate Japan’s long-standing restrictions on U.S. beef exports, paving the way for expanded sales to the United States’ top global beef market.

In December 2003, Japan banned U.S. beef and beef products following the detection of a bovine spongiform encephalopathy-positive animal in the United States. In December 2005, Japan restored partial access for U.S. beef muscle cuts and offal items from cattle 20 months of age and younger. In February 2013, Japan extended access to include beef and beef products from cattle less than 30 months of age.

In April 2017, Japan eliminated its age-based BSE testing on domestic Japanese cattle, paving the way for similar age-based restrictions to be lifted on negligible BSE-risk trading partners, including the United States. On Jan. 15, 2019, Japan’s Food Safety Commission concluded eliminating the age restriction for beef from the U.S., Canada and Ireland posed a negligible risk to human health. Based on the FSC risk assessment, Japan began consultations with the U.S. to revise its import requirements in order to align with the BSE guidelines of the World Organization for Animal Health.

Last week, on the margins of the G-20 Agriculture Ministerial Meeting in Niigata, Japan, Perdue met with Japanese government officials and affirmed the importance of science-based trade rules. The new terms, which take effect immediately, allow U.S. products from all cattle, regardless of age, to enter Japan for the first time since 2003.

“This is great news for American ranchers and exporters who now have full access to the Japanese market for their high-quality, safe, wholesome, and delicious U.S. beef,” Perdue said. “We are hopeful that Japan’s decision will help lead other markets around the world toward science-based policies.”


The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that this expanded access could increase U.S. beef and beef product exports to Japan by up to $200 million annually. The agreement is also an important step in normalizing trade with Japan, as Japan further aligns its import requirements with international standards for bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

The North Dakota Stockmen's Association cheered the news.

“This is fantastic news for the U.S. beef industry and cattle ranchers across the country. The expanded access is expected to increase U.S. beef exports to Japan by up to $200 million a year. Equally important, it knocks down a substantial nonscience-based trade barrier that has restricted opportunities for U.S. cattlemen and women and sends the message to other U.S. trading partners that they should do the same," said North Dakota Stockmen’s Association president and McVille, N.D., cow-calf producer Dan Rorvig.

“The Stockmen’s Association is also encouraged by recent discussions between the U.S. and Japan about the possibility of a bilateral trade agreement. As a next step, we are hopeful we can reduce the 38.5 percent tariff that’s on U.S. beef right now and become more competitive with countries like Australia and New Zealand, who are subject to only a fraction of that.”

According to the Stockmen's Association, Japan imported 330,217 metric tons of U.S. beef, valued at approximately $2.8 billion, in 2018. That was up 7% in volume and 10% in value over 2017.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association hopes the move will lead to more progress on trade.

"This underscores the safety of the U.S. beef herd, and it will hopefully send a signal to other Asian nations that nonscience-based trade barriers like this one should be eliminated in their countries, as well," said Jennifer Houston, NCBA president.

"Tariff rates grab all the headlines, but nontariff barriers are often just as important, if not more so, when it comes to determining market access. Hopefully this will help spotlight this important point and lead to more trade victories in the near future."

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