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Rebuilding Japanese Beef Export Market Faces Challenges

U.S. Meat Export Federation outlines challenges, opportunities facing industry in this once-strong market.

The Japanese market was a shining star for U.S. beef up until late 2003. Since doors closed to U.S. exports to the market, demand for beef in that country has fallen even as other exporters tried to fill the gap. Now the United States is back in the market, since August, and according to the U.S. Meat Export the demand may be there, but supply may not.

During a media conference call, John Bellinger, USMEF chairman, and Phil Seng, USMEF president and CEO, talked from their tour of Japan. They made the call during a stop in Osaka.

There are there are three main roadblocks facing a rebuilding use of U.S. beef in Japan:

  • A paucity of cattle eligible for the market - all U.S. cattle must be verified as under 20 months of age either through birth records or an A40 physiological score.
  • Customs clearance and quarantine rules for U.S. imports - which boosted the workload for customs officials, but no extra help was hired on.
  • High price of U.S. beef compared to domestic supply.
Beating those three factors won't easy, but Phil Seng, President and CEO, U.S. Meat Export Federation, did issue a call to U.S. producers, noting that there is a market if there could be enough age-verified cattle available.

USMEF has been involved with an extensive program since early August to put a human face on the U.S. beef industry. Seng notes that the We Care campaign includes a range of programs aimed at the Japanese consumer and the Japanese beef trade. They range from advertisements in consumer magazines to virtual tours showing U.S. beef processing. "The Japanese trade has complimented us on the tasteful approach we have taken, and how discrete and impactful the campign is," Seng says. "We're working to win back the hearts and minds of the consumers."

While consumer surveys in Japan had shown in the past that demand for U.S. beef would be weak, that's not the reception that Seng, and USMEF Chairman Bellinger have received while traveling in the country this week. Adds Seng: "There were consumer tracking surveys that led to a lot of pessimism but once confronted with the opportunity to buy [U.S.] product, response was good."
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