Japan’s meat imports break record in 2017 on rising demand

TOKYO, Jan. 31 — Japan’s meat imports broke the 2 million metric ton barrier last year for the first time since records began in 1991, with flat domestic production leading to strong import demand, data from the finance ministry shows.

Japanese imports of red meat and poultry totaled 2.07 million metric tons in 2017, exceeding the previous record of 1.94 million metric tons in 2000.

Domestic pork production has been slowly recovering following the 2014 outbreaks of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED), leading to increased pork imports and intensifying competition especially in the chilled market.

PED is a viral disease that has a high fatality rate for infected piglets.

“The PED outbreak has caused a decrease in the birth rate per sow and sent sharp price increases in pork,” said a Tokyo-based supermarket operator.

“Combined with consumers tightening their belts and prioritizing competitively priced meat, we have been pushing sales of pork imports from Canada and the U.S.,” he added.

As pork imports increase, so do those of chicken and beef.

Japan’s poultry association said: “Less fatty chicken is becoming popular, especially among seniors and health-conscious consumers.”

Indeed, home-grown poultry production has been increasing, yet has been unable to keep up with a rise in demand, leading to increased imports from Brazil and Thailand, the association said.

When it comes to beef, imports from Australia and the U.S. increased.  Australia especially has boosted beef shipments to Japan, taking advantage of lower tariffs through its bilateral trade agreement.

A rapid surge in beef imports prompted Tokyo to raise tariffs on frozen beef imports in August. It mainly affects U.S. producers because they are the main suppliers of frozen beef to Japan. The U.S. doesn’t have a free trade agreement with Japan.

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