LEXINGTON, Ky. —A contingent of agriculture representatives, including Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, traveled to Japan from Sept. 3-8 as part of a U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMET) trade delegation to meet with buyers of U.S. pork and beef.
Kentucky’s total ag and related product exports amounted to more than $1 billion in 2016, with $108 million of that to Japan.
“The Japanese market is pretty big for us; it’s been sky-high,” said Dave Maples, vice president of the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Assoc., who also went on the trip. “Japan is a huge market; it is really important to us. I didn’t realize how much money they had to purchase our beef. To me it is a growing market.”
The journey took the group to Osaka and Tokyo, where they met with a number of consumers, producers and processors to observe various examples of Japanese culture and eating habits. “We went to several grocery stores as well as a distributor and processing plant to see how they operated,” said Maples. “Their culture is more geared to the thinner cut and in Japan, they auction the carcass and not the live animal.
“One of the nicer things we did is that we went to a consumer event where they brought in some food editors, journalists and bloggers and prepared Japanese meals. It was great interacting with Japanese consumers.”
American beef exports to Japan totaled 27,689 metric tons in July, up 20 percent from a year ago and the largest since July 2013 – which was shortly after Japan increased the eligible U.S. cattle age to 30 months. July export value to Japan increased 36 percent to $175.7 million, the highest monthly total since 1996. For January-July, exports to Japan were up 23 percent in volume (178,501 metric tons) and 29 percent in value ($1.08 billion).
Overall, July beef exports totaled 104,488 metric tons, up 5 percent year-over-year, while export value reached $623.7 million – up 18 percent from a year ago and the highest since December 2014. For January-July, exports increased 11 percent in volume (711,364 metric tons) and 15 percent in value ($3.97 billion) compared to the first seven months of last year.
Pork did not fare as well, however. Pork exports totaled 173,675 metric tons in July, down 4 percent year-over-year, valued at $488.9 million, down 0.6 percent. January-July volume was still up 11 percent from a year ago to 1.43 million metric tons, while export value was up 13 percent to $3.7 billion.
“July was certainly a solid month, especially for beef exports, but these results remind us that the U.S. red meat industry operates in an intensely competitive global environment,” said USMEF CEO Philip Seng.
That global environment could be in jeopardy, however, with the U.S. revocation of the Transpacific Partnership (TPP). Recently, the government of Japan announced that rising imports of frozen beef triggered a safeguard, resulting in an automatic increase in the Japanese tariff rate to 50 percent.
“At a time when some of our most essential trade agreements are under review, we must be mindful of how these agreements have helped make U.S. beef, pork and lamb more readily available and more affordable for millions of global customers, to the benefit of U.S. producers and everyone in the U.S. supply chain,” said Seng.
“We didn’t sign TPP and now the safeguards have gone into place,” said Maples. “I think that’s going to open the door for Australia to come right in. I think we have to stay on top of it and work to get those tariffs down. If not, we’re going to lose that market.”