Big Cattle Drive beef

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Friday announced that Japan is lifting a 15-year partial embargo on U.S. beef.

That's welcome news for Colorado beef producers, coming at a time when China plans to hike tariffs on U.S. beef and beef hides imported from the U.S.

The announcement Friday reverses a ban Japan placed on U.S. beef in 2003 after bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as "mad cow disease," was detected in a cow in Washington state.

At the time of the ban, Japan was the top importer of U.S. beef, purchasing 240,000 tons with a market value of $1.4 billion. Perdue's announcement indicated exports to Japan could increase by $200 million annually.

Joe Schuele, vice president of communications for the Denver-based U.S. Meat Export Federation, said U.S. beef exports to Japan topped $2 billion in 2018. 

Beginning in 2005, Japan began gradually peeling back the ban, allowing the export of cattle 20 months of age or younger. In 2013, it started allowing cattle exports for animals 30 months of age or younger. That was the biggest change that allowed virtually any cattle in a feedlot to be exported to Japan, Schuele told Colorado Politics.

In April 2017, Japan eliminated age-based BSE testing on its own country's cattle. According to Perdue's statement, that opened the door to allowing trading partners to export cattle that posed a negligible risk for BSE, including the United States. That decision was finalized last January.

Shawn Martini of the Colorado Farm Bureau said Colorado exported $50 million in beef to Japan in 2018, although that's about $7 million less than in 2017, when Japan began turning to other trading partners for beef, notably, Australia.

That was in reaction to the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which has hurt exports in wheat, beef, pork, dairy, wine, potatoes, fruits and vegetables and other products.

According to an April 25, 2019 letter to the US Trade Representative from a coalition of 87 food and farm groups, those exports "are facing collapse of their Japanese market share as these lucrative sales are handed over to their competitors."

In his statement, Perdue said Japan's decision "is great news for American ranchers and exporters who now have full access to the Japanese market for their high-quality, safe, wholesome, and delicious U.S. beef. We are hopeful that Japan’s decision will help lead other markets around the world toward science-based policies.”

"It's good news for the whole beef industry," Schuele said Friday. "We've had pretty solid access to the Japanese markets since 2013," he explained, when Japan removed barriers to cattle at 30 months. 

The change announced Friday allow beef exports from older cattle, such as dairy and breeding cattle that have been retired. 

Schuele said that while a $200 million increase doesn't seem huge in terms of exports to Japan, for some countries it can take decades to get to that level. 

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