US bolsters trade relations with Japan

by Lawrence Aylward
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Members of USMEF traveled to Japan to particpate in a meat trade seminar in Tokyo. More than 700 Japanese importers and food industry stakeholders attended.
Members of USMEF traveled to Japan to participate in a meat trade seminar in Tokyo. More than 700 Japanese importers and food industry stakeholders attended. (Photo: USMEF)

TOKYO – After spending the week in Japan meeting with Japanese importers, distributors, retailers, processors and other food industry professionals, Chris Hodges, CEO of the National Pork Board (NPB), said he will leave the country with a feeling that “relationships are strong” with the Japanese trade sector and that the future of increased pork exports to Japan appears bright.

Hodges was visiting Japan as part of a delegation of US producers and other agricultural leaders on a trade mission sponsored by the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Other delegates included Mike Foley, lieutenant governor of Nebraska; John Anderson, deputy chief economist for American Farm Bureau Federation; and Gary Marshall, CEO of the Missouri Corn Merchandising Council.

The four officials held a conference call from Japan on Sept. 11 and spoke about current market conditions for US pork and beef in Japan and the importance of the Japanese market. Hodges said opportunities for pork exports are improving, despite exports being down on volume and value for the first half of the year.

“We started the year with rough sailing” due to the lingering effects of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PEDv) and the West Coast port closures,” he noted.

Hodges said the NPB has approved supplemental funding to improve pork exports.

“We made it well known to Japan that PED is behind us and pork production is trending back up. They should have no concerns about a reliable supply,” he said.

Foley said the delegates went to Japan to gain a deeper understanding of the Japanese marketplace for beef and pork.

“We want to take this knowledge back home … to better serve our most valuable export market,” he added. “This mission communicates to our Japanese customers just how much we value their demand for our beef and pork.”

Foley noted that Japanese consumers place a high value on understanding the quality behind US meat products.
“We had an incredible opportunity to share with them what makes our beef and pork so great,” he added, noting there were discussions on feed and genetics.

Anderson said he was struck at how competitive the retail meat sector is in Japan.

“There are many, many countries sending meat here,” he added. “We visited a cold storage facility and it was amazing to look around that place and see the many companies represented that want a piece of this market. I think that really emphasizes the importance of the work that USMEF does with the support of the entire agriculture sector, as this is a market that has to be worked continually.”

But the work could be worth the effort.

“I’m struck by the growth potential that there seems to be in the Japanese market,” Foley added.

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