TOKYO >> Since the Trans-Pacific Partnership went into effect, a wider variety of imported beef has been making its way onto the tables of Japanese households.
Products from Canada and New Zealand have been increasing, and new players from South America have appeared after bans on imports from those countries were removed.
Up to now, the U.S. and Australia almost exclusively dominated beef imports into Japan, accounting for 90% of the total. But the grip of the “Big 2” is being loosened by Canada and New Zealand, which saw their prices decrease after tariffs on their beef dropped from 38.5% to 26.6% since April.
The TPP took effect at the end of last year.
Canadian beef is regarded as similar in quality to that of the United States, which Japanese consumers prefer. According to trade statistics from the Finance Ministry, the import volume from January to June was 17,303 tons, up 93% from last year. Imports from New Zealand, known for its lean meat, rose 46% to 10,097 tons.
At one supermarket in Tokyo, Canadian chuck loin sells for about 258 yen (about $2.43) per 100 grams (less than 1/4 pound). “It is about the same price as the U.S. beef, so it’s not out of reach,” a purchasing manager said.
South American imports are expected to grow gradually. Beef imports from Uruguay and Argentina had been banned due to past outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, an infectious disease affecting livestock. But after receiving assurances of food safety, the government in June 2018 lifted the bans on beef from Patagonia in southern Argentina, and from Uruguay this February.
Ito-Yokado Co. was the first major Japanese retailer to sell Argentine beef, which it carried for a limited period. “It has a high content of lean meat and a soft texture, so you can (get) the true flavor of the meat,” a company official said. The company will consider future sales of the product.
Gyu-Kaku, a major yakiniku restaurant chain, serves Uruguayan beef at about 630 outlets across the nation.
Under the TPP, beef tariffs will be lowered in stages to 9%. By increasing volume, South American beef can be imported at lower prices than beef from the U.S. and Australia, leading to more variety, increased competition — and lower prices.
These changes in the Japanese imported beef market is a point of concern for the U.S., which, by withdrawing from the TPP, stands to find itself at a disadvantage in terms of price and market share. The administration of President Donald Trump is expected to increase pressure in trade negotiations for Japan to open its markets.