The decision to let in more U.S. beef and beef products into Japan was announced this week under new import terms including permitting U.S. beef from cattle less than 30 months old, up from the previous 20-month limit, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced.
"This is great news for American ranchers and beef companies, who can now – as a result of this agreement – increase their exports of U.S. beef to their largest market for beef in Asia," Kirk said in a statement, adding it would help grow American exports and jobs.
The U.S. Agriculture Department said the new import terms will "result in hundreds of millions of dollars in exports of U.S. beef to Japan in the coming years."
Secretary Vilsack said the agricultural exports this year are "expected to set yet another record."
The issue with Japan goes back to December 2003 when Japan banned U.S. beef and beef products after detection of just one animal with the mad cow disease also called bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE. In July 2006, Japan partially reopened its market for imports of some U.S. beef from animals aged 20 months or less.
Later, following Japan's independent Food Safety Commission's risk assessment to raise the maximum age of cattle, Japan and the United States entered into consultations to revise the import requirements, the Agriculture Department said.
The decade-old restrictions had hit the U.S. industry hard.
The New York Times, quoting industry experts, reported that although Japan has eased its restrictions, U.S. beef producers still face challenges to come out of their difficulties as the restrictions had led to the paring of cattle population to its lowest in 60 years, blamed also on drought. This occurred even as feed prices jumped, partly as a result of corn being diverted to ethanol production.
The Wall Street Journal, citing official data, said before the restrictions, the United States exported $1.3 billion worth of beef to Japan in 2003. In the 11 months of last year, the exports totaled $849 million, up from $704 million in the same period of 2011.