More beef to be shipped to Japan

WASHINGTON — The United States and Japan have agreed on new terms and conditions that pave the way for expanded exports of U.S. beef and beef products to Japan.

The new terms, which take effect Feb. 1, mean Japan will now permit the import of beef from cattle less than 30 months of age, compared to the previous limit of 20 months, among other steps.

This agreement also goes a long way toward normalizing trade with Japan by addressing long-standing restrictions that Japan introduced in response to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

U.S. beef export boon

“This is great news for American ranchers and beef companies, who can now — as a result of this agreement — increase their exports of U.S. beef to their largest market for beef in Asia,” said U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who made the announcement with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Through November 2012, Japan was the second largest export market for U.S. beef totaling $849 million and nearly 130,000 metric tons. It is estimated that this change in protocol will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in additional exports of U.S. beef.

The two governments also agreed to regular and ad hoc consultations to review progress under the agreement and address any issues that may arise.

In an accompanying letter exchange, Japan also confirms its ongoing BSE risk assessment by its Food Safety Commission (FSC), which includes a consideration of raising the age limit above 30 months for beef and beef product imports from the United States, taking into account international standards.

Background

In December 2003, Japan banned U.S. beef and beef products following the detection of a bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)-positive animal in the United States. In July 2006, Japan partially reopened its market to allow imports of some U.S. beef from animals aged 20 months or younger produced under a special program for Japan. 

In December 2011, Japan’s independent Food Safety Commission (FSC) initiated a risk assessment to examine raising the maximum age of the cattle from which U.S. and certain other foreign beef and beef products could be exported to Japan, as well as revising the definition of specified risk materials (SRMs). (SRMs are certain cattle tissues that can carry the BSE agent.)

Based on an FSC risk assessment released last October, Japan entered into consultations with the United States to revise the import requirements, including raising the age limit for U.S. cattle and adopting a revised definition of SRMs for U.S. beef and beef product imports that is closely aligned with international standards of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

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