TOKYO, Sept. 28 ― Japan’s beef imports from January to August increased to the highest level since 2001, when beef imports soared after the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, in a Tokyo suburb.
The increase in imports this year came as higher tariffs on U.S. frozen beef imports expired in March and Australian beef tries to gain market share through a free trade agreement with Japan.
According to the finance ministry, beef imports in the eight months through August rose 6% to 404,490 metric tons from the same period a year ago.
Australian and the U.S. beef account for 90 percent of total imports.
Imports of Australia soared 11% to 207,337 metric tons, taking advantage of the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (JAEPA). Under the trade pact, which entered into force in 2015, Japan’s imports of Australian beef are currently subject to tariffs of 29.3% for chilled beef and 26.9% for frozen beef.
These rates are scheduled to fall to 23.5% by 2028 for chilled beef and 19.5% by 2031 for frozen beef.
Without any free trade agreement with Japan in place, on the other hand, purchases from the U.S. rose 2% to 163,826 metric tons, the highest level since 2004, partly because of a weakening dollar.
Japanese traders pointed out that an expanding American herd will likely lead to a record high of beef production in the U.S. “U.S farmers and ranchers are eager to boost beef shipments to Japan,” a trader said.
Dan Halstrom, president and CEO for the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) recently said in the organization’s site: “A trade agreement with Japan would bring opportunities for even greater expansion as U.S. beef becomes more affordable for Japanese consumers and is back on a level playing field with Australian beef.”