Japan raises tariffs on US beef after hitting import limit

TOKYO (AP) – Imported American beef in Japan has proved so popular it’s topped the annual limits called “safeguards”, and the United States (US) Meat Export Federation on yesterday urged Tokyo to raise the threshold.

Japan’s import limit for American beef of 242,000 metric tonnes was reached in early March, and so tariffs will be raised from 25.8 per cent to 38.5 per cent for a month, starting yesterday through April 16, according to the Japanese Finance Ministry.

Japan’s limits on imports of meat and other farm products have been a recurring trade issue with the US, which heavily imports Toyota cars and Nintendo video games.

“Triggering of the beef safeguard is not unexpected,” USMEF, which promotes American beef, said in a statement. “In fact, based on our 15-year outlook, USMEF projects that without an increase to the safeguard threshold, Japan’s imports of US beef are likely to trigger the annual safeguard every year.”

A bilateral trade agreement signed in 2019 provided for US beef imports to gradually rise, and taxes to drop from 38.5 per cent first to 25.8 per cent, and eventually to nine per cent in 15 years.

The Japan-US Trade Agreement also said that if the safeguard gets set off, Japan agrees to consult with the US to adjust the level.

Japan’s imports of US beef rose three per cent in the first part of the year compared to the previous year. American beef exports to South Korea and China have also been growing.

For decades, Japanese consumers preferred the local, marbled but expensive beef. In recent years, tastes have gradually changed.

In 2018, the US exported USD2.1 billion of beef and beef products to Japan.

Japan is the US largest export market for beef, based on value.

In an effort to make up for the decline in dining out because of the coronavirus pandemic, US meat exporters have been carrying out a social media campaign in Japan with recipes and photos to encourage cooking beef at home.

Australia is the biggest rival for the US in beef exports to Japan, but the cattle supply in Australia has suffered lately because of drought.

Japan banned American beef imports in December 2003 after the first case of mad cow disease in the US. The ban was eased in December 2005, but tightened again the following month, after prohibited spinal bones were found in a veal shipment. Beef imports resumed in 2007.