Beef exports to Japan up 93 percent |

Beef exports to Japan up 93 percent

The triple tragedy in Japan involving earthquakes, a tsunami and radiation exposure earlier this year continues to devastate the country. In addition to restoring power, housing refugees, and cleaning up the mass destruction, food security is also a top priority for this nation. Philip Seng, president and CEO for the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) recently spent ten days visiting Japan in order to grasp the situation and gain important insight on how the U.S. can play a role in its economic recovery.

Seng oversees USMEF operations worldwide, providing direction for USMEF strategies and priorities in international programs, research, technical services, industry relations and global communications. He also serves as the primary spokesman for USMEF and other exporting interests to government and private entities regarding international trade policy and foreign market development issues related to U.S. red meat products.

Raised on an Iowa farm, Seng joined the USMEF staff in the Tokyo office in 1982, was USMEF’s Asian director for six years and was named president and chief operating officer in January 1990. He is fluent in Japanese, played a central role in opening the Japanese beef market, is an authority on Japan’s complex distribution system and has worked closely with both industry and government officials in Japan. He spoke about the state of affairs in Japan and what U.S. producers need to know about the export markets.

“The impact of the triple tragedy has been a one-two-three punch in Japan,” said Seng. “There continues to be lingering and long-lasting impacts from the devastation. One hundred thousand people are still living as refugees. Four thousand head of cattle and 30,000 hogs had to be abandoned or presumed dead, with even more to be destroyed in the upcoming months. The tragedy continues to unfold. Losses will exceed $500 million.”

With so much devastation, the country is at odds about what to do for food security. According to Seng, about 2 percent of Japan’s economy comes from the afflicted area, with about 16 percent of all pork produced, 12 percent of beef, and 17 percent of dairy originating from this destroyed region. A significant area of Japanese agriculture was damaged.

“The Japanese people are concerned about their food products as radiation is blown around in the air,” stressed Seng. “This is a major problem. There is a real fear about buying products from these areas. On the other hand, there is a very strong tendency for the Japanese to buy domestically to help the farmers. The buying patterns are conflicting, and we continue to see this struggle play out.”

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With that in mind, demand for beef is strong, and the country simply doesn’t have enough supply to match that demand.

“When we look at U.S. beef exports to Japan, our trend has continued to be strong in 2009 and 2010, up 36 percent in the last two years,” said Seng. “The forecast looks handsome with a 75 percent increase. Through April 14, we are up 93 percent over 2010. We see this trend continuing on the beef side. The 2011 forecast looks to be a 23 percent increase.”

In a combined effort of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) and the Federation of State Beef Councils, the beef checkoff program is investing a total of $200,000 to help feed consumers in Japan who were injured, misplaced and left homeless and hungry by the devastating earthquake and tsunamis there. This money will go towards the Japan Relief Program established through the USMEF.

“USMEF is working with companies in Japan through existing distribution channels to help get food to areas in need,” said Seng. “We are also working around Japan, in areas that weren’t impacted, to keep the momentum going for beef exports. The Japanese will remember those who help in the relief effort, and I think it’s positive for both the short-term and the long-term for the U.S. beef market in Japan for us to help with the relief efforts.”

Seng anticipates beef demand to continue to grow, domestically and abroad.

“There is tremendous demand for protein here and overseas,” explained Seng. “A lot of Americans are getting increasingly concerned about food prices. We are seeing demand growing faster than our ability to produce. As far as I can see, I’m very bullish as far as beef exports in Asia. This will be very exciting for our producers, especially when we increase our markets in the Pacific Realm.”

Although the devastation in Japan has been heart wrenching to learn about in the news, the upside is the opportunity for the U.S. to help in the relief efforts and promote American beef abroad.