Japan could lift restrictions on US beef as early as next month, according to local news sources.
Reports in the Japanese media have stated that the country’s Health Minister, Norihisa Tamura, confirmed this week that the age of US cattle eligible for import into Japan will be raised from 20 months to 30 months on 1 February 2013. This decision was taken after a recommendation from Japan’s Food Safety Commission, which concluded that lifting the age limit would not result in increased risk of BSE.
Analysts have stated that the changes to the import protocol, which are subject to approval by Japan’s Pharmaceutical Affairs and Food Sanitation Council, could lead to a 25% year-on-year increase in US beef exports to Japan in 2013.
However, reports from the US have suggested that tight beef supplies could limit the country’s ability to take advantage of the relaxation of Japanese import rules.
Japan banned US beef in 2003 after BSE was discovered in US cattle. The ban was lifted in 2006, but restrictions on age have remained since, and exports of US beef to Japan last year were 135,000 tonnes swt, around half of the volumes exported in 2003 before restrictions were imposed.
It is estimated that the 20-month age restriction has limited the percentage of US beef eligible for export to Japan to less than 20%. If the age restriction is raised to 30 months, as much as 90% of US beef could become eligible for export to the Japanese market.