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Unpacking the success of U.S. beef in Japan

In 2023, U.S. beef exports totaled $10 billion, with nearly $2 billion going to the Japanese market.

Andrew Muhammad, Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy

May 29, 2024

2 Min Read
Beef Cattle Blur
Japanese beef imports have been relatively split between the U.S. and Australian beef – together, both account for around 80% of Japan’s total imports.LeandroHernandez/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Japan is one of the largest beef importing countries in the world and stands out among major destinations for the U.S. In 2023, U.S. beef exports totaled $10 billion, with nearly $2 billion going to the Japanese market.

This was only surpassed by exports to South Korea ($2.1 billion). However, Japan has been the leading U.S. market until recent years.

It was not long ago when U.S. beef was outright banned in Japan due to BSE concerns (2004-2006) and was still somewhat restricted even after the ban was lifted. However, since then, the U.S. has been regaining market share and is once again the leading supplier of imported beef in Japan.

This article focuses on the success of U.S. beef in Japan, highlighting the competition between the U.S. and Australia. Japanese beef imports have been relatively split between the U.S. and Australian beef – together, both account for around 80% of Japan’s total imports.

Similar agreements

Interestingly, the U.S. and Australia have similar but competing trade agreements with Japan: the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement (USJTA) and Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and face near identical reductions in beef tariffs since January 2020.

Annual quantity shares for beef exporting countries in Japan (e.g., Australia, U.S.) are reported in Figure 1.

US_Beef_in_Japan-3.jpg

Import quantities have not significantly changed since 2000, and recent highs in export values (e.g., $4.9 billion in 2022) were mostly due to relatively higher prices.

Since quantities have been relatively unchanging, the change in shares reported in the figure reflects substitutions across countries.

Prior to the BSE ban in 2004-2006, U.S. beef accounted for more than 50% of Japanese beef imports but decreased to almost 0% during the BSE ban period.

Increased U.S. Share

Since 2006, however, the U.S. beef share has steadily increased to around 40% by 2017, peaking at 44% in 2020 when the USJTA entered into force, while the share for Australia decreased from more than 80% in 2006 to 41% by 2020.

It is important to note that the declining share for Australia starting in 2018 was also due to increased exports from countries other than the U.S.

In terms of value, the U.S. currently exports significantly more to Japan than Australia. For instance, in 2022, when U.S. beef exports reached a record high of $2.3 billion, Australia exported only $1.6 billion.

Noted reasons for higher U.S. values include the following: relatively higher prices for grain-fed U.S. beef; the fact that the U.S. mostly exports brisket, plate, chuck, and round, whereas Australia mostly exports chuck, round, loin, and other cuts; and the U.S. dominates the beef offal market in Japan where chilled offal (internal organs and cheek meet) and frozen beef tongue sell anywhere from 50% to 100% more than the traditional muscle cuts and beef product.

Source: Southern Ag Today, a collaboration of economists from 13 Southern universities.

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Trade

About the Author(s)

Andrew Muhammad

Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy, University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture

Andrew Muhammad assists the state and nation’s agricultural decision makers in evaluating policies and programs dealing with agricultural commodities, food and nutrition, natural resources, and international trade.

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