(Mainichi: January 1, 2015 – p. 12)
By Osamu Hirachi
Japan is planning to call on other countries to expand their import quotas of Japanese wagyu beef in trade negotiations, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, as the growing craze for Japanese cuisine worldwide is expected to help boost wagyu exports. During TPP talks, Tokyo will demand Washington increase its low-tariff beef import quota. Japan has been under pressure in trade talks to open its market for foreign farm imports, but it is working to make an aggressive pitch for exports of beef and other agricultural products that will appeal to the palates of overseas consumers.
Japan’s beef exports had been stagnant since the outbreak of the BSE and foot-and-mouth epidemic in 2000, as many countries banned beef imports. In 2012, the U.S. resumed Japanese beef imports, and the European Union lifted its trade embargo last year. Demand for quality wagyu has been growing, driven by the growing popularity of Japanese cuisine around the world. Japan’s beef shipments hit a record 909 tons, worth about 5.8 billion yen, in 2013. That momentum continued through last year. Exports for the 11 months through November topped the record marked the previous year, at about 1081 tons, or about 7.1 billion yen.
Of that amount, about 131 tons were shipped to the U.S., the world’s largest beef consumer. The volume was the highest ever, with exports to the country projected to grow more down the road. Meanwhile, the U.S. sets a low-tariff import quota of Japanese beef at 200 tons a year. Under this system, up to 200 tons of Japanese beef shipments are subject to a duty of 4.4 cents per kilogram, but the tariff jumps to 26.4% if the volume exceeds 200 tons.
If Japan continues to increase its beef exports to the U.S. at the current pace, shipments may soon exceed this ceiling, which is prompting the government to request the U.S. to increase its import quota. Beef import tariff reductions are also expected to be discussed in talks on an economic partnership agreement with the EU, as the region imposes a duty of over 10% on beef imports.
The government has set a target of boosting exports of Japanese farm produce and seafood to 1 trillion yen by 2020 as part of its growth strategy, with an eye on increasing beef exports to 25 billion yen, or about 4000 tons. In trade negotiations, it is working to eliminate trade barriers set by other countries, including tariffs. It is also planning to ramp up marketing efforts to promote wagyu with a particular focus on the U.S. and Europe, where beef consumption is high.