The deal, rumoured in the Japanese press last month and confirmed by the US Agriculture Department (USDA) earlier this week, will see Japan raise the age restrictions on US beef from 20 months to 30 months on 1 February 2013. The agreement currently excludes ground beef, which will be phased in once Japanese authorities are satisfied the new export protocol is being followed.
The two governments also agreed to regular consultations to review progress and address any issues that occur.
US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said: “This is great news for American ranchers and beef companies, who can now – as a result of this agreement – increase their exports of US beef to their largest market for beef in Asia. This represents a significant and historic step in expanding US beef trade with Japan and growing American exports and jobs here at home. We welcome Japan’s action.”
The US Meat Export Federation estimated that the relaxation of age restrictions on US beef could see exports to Japan increase by as much as 45% next year to 225,000 metric tonnes, worth $1.5bn.
Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO, said: “This is an extremely positive development that successfully addresses one of the longest-standing issues between our two governments.
“The US beef industry – from farmers and ranchers to exporters – will benefit from increased exports to this premium market. At the same time, the trade and consumers in Japan will see a wider variety of beef products and improved availability of US beef in the retail and foodservice channels.
“We are grateful to the governments of Japan and the US for their efforts to make this agreement a reality,”
He added that the US beef industry would work closely with the US government to ensure it could meet the provisions set out by agreement, including the requirement for beef products produced before 1 February to be shipped seperately and accompanied by appropriate documentation.
Japan banned US beef in 2003 after BSE was detected in US cattle. The ban was lifted in 2006, but the 20-month age restriction has remained in place since then, limiting the percentage of US beef eligible for export to Japan to just 20%. Experts predict the new agreement will mean as much as 90% of US beef production will be eligible for export to Japan.