US beef exports to Japan up 41% year-over-year in 2013 to 186,028 tons, narrowing gap with Australia, which saw its exports fall 10.1% to 286,546 tons, according to government data

TOKYO , February 11, 2014 () – The United States expanded beef exports to Japan by 41 percent from the previous year to 186,028 tons in 2013, narrowing a gap with top exporter Australia, according to research by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.

Behind the sharp increase is believed to be the Japanese government's action in February 2013 to further relax import regulations, allowing meat from cattle aged up to 30 months in place of 20 months.

In 2013, Australia exported 286,546 tons, down 10.1 percent, marking a decline for the four consecutive year, while Japan's aggregate beef imports increased 3.9 percent to 534,846 tons.

Domestic beef production dropped 2.1 percent to 355,607 tons. Overall, the beef market, combining both domestic output and imports, totaled 890,453 tons, up 1.4 percent.

The ministry said dealers increased imports anticipating a rise in demand for beef, which is higher priced than pork and chicken, in the wake of an economic recovery.

The surge of U.S. beef imports could impact dynamics of ongoing free trade negotiations.

Imports of U.S. beef have been increasing steadily since December 2005 when Tokyo switched to an age-linked restriction from the blanket ban, instituted in 2003 after a mad cow disease scare.

Some Japanese officials speculate that Australia would feel pressed to conclude a bilateral trade deal with Japan, rather than seeking a multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that also includes the United States.

Japan has proposed to curb its 38.5 percent tariff on beef imports to around 30 percent in its negotiations with Australia for an economic partnership agreement.

If the bilateral deal takes effect earlier than the multilateral accord, Australia would enjoy a relative advantage in exporting beef to Japan.

(c) 2014 Kyodo News International, Inc.

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