The importance of the U.S.-Japanese economic relationship, particularly as it relates to U.S. agriculture and red meat exports, was highlighted by U.S. Meat Export Federation President and CEO Philip Seng in a media briefing in Tokyo Friday morning.
"On Feb. 1, 2013, Japan rationalized its import restrictions to allow beef imports from U.S. cattle less than 30 months of age," Seng said. "The United States appreciates the action and the way this was handled (by Japan). We appreciate how smoothly the process has gone thus far. The U.S. beef industry is committed to the Japanese market and looks forward to an even closer partnership."
This change in Japan's policy on beef imports is expected to contribute to a 45% increase in U.S. beef exports to that nation in 2013. In 2012, Japan purchased 152,763 metric tons (336.8 million pounds) of U.S. beef muscle cuts and variety meat valued at $1.03 billion, USMEF said.
At the same time, Japan remains the No. 1 value market and No. 2 volume market for U.S. pork, buying 455,776 metric tons (just over 1 billion pounds) valued at nearly $2 billion last year.
Seng noted that while volatile weather trends can affect livestock feed costs and supplies, it is anticipated that the U.S. will see increased pork volumes available in the year ahead and continued solid pork exports to Japan, where U.S. pork has been the No. 1 imported pork for eight consecutive years.
Seng also addressed Japan's involvement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Japanese Prime Minister Abe announced Japan's commitment to join the TPP discussions on March 15, and less than a month later the U.S. offered its support for Japanese participation in TPP.
"TPP is often referred to in Japan as TPP mondai (question)," said Seng. "I like to call it TPP kikai (opportunity). The USMEF and our industry strongly endorse Japan's participation in TPP. We stress that the last word in TPP is 'partnership.' We regard TPP as a partnership – a collaborative effort."
The importance of TPP, Seng noted, is that its participants represent 40% of global wealth and one-third of global trade. But he acknowledged that there is some reluctance expressed by members of Japan's agricultural sector.
"I have traveled extensively around the world, and Japanese food is reputed to be the most exquisite," said Seng. "Everywhere, the concept of umami (distinctive yet subtle Japanese flavor) is in fashion. The United States, Europe, Canada, Australia, all around the world — countries would love to have the reputation that exists for Japanese food. This (TPP) is a huge opportunity for Japanese farmers to build on the excellent reputation of Japanese food with their farm products."