TOKYO (AP) — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has picked up his barbeque tongs to convey his message to Japan: Buy more American beef. Perdue said Monday that as a top consumer of U.S. beef, Japan should treat the U.S. fairly.
He said he hoped President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will strike a trade deal during his boss’s visit to Japan later this month, but acknowledged more time might be needed.
South Korea continues to be the growth leader for U.S. beef exports, with first quarter volume climbing 8% year-over-year to 56,173 mt, while value ($414.2 million) was 13% above last year’s record-shattering pace. U.S. beef has achieved remarkable success in Korea’s traditional retail and restaurant sectors but is also rapidly gaining popularity in outlets such as convenience stores and e-commerce platforms. Recent export growth is not only in the ever-popular short rib category, but also in short plate, briskets, clods and rounds, as end-users recognize the versatility and affordability of high-quality U.S. beef.
Beef exports to Japan were moderately lower than a year ago in March, but still finished the first quarter 2% above last year’s pace in volume (74,147 mt) and 5% higher in value ($480.4 million). This was fueled by growth in variety meat exports, with the U.S. shipping more tongues and skirt meat to Japan. U.S. beef faces a widening tariff disadvantage in Japan compared to imports from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Mexico, and the latest tariff reduction for these countries didn’t take effect until April 1.
“U.S. beef cuts are still subject to a 38.5% tariff in Japan while our competitors’ rate is nearly one-third lower at 26.6%,” explained Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO. “This really underscores the urgency of the U.S.-Japan trade negotiations, which must progress quickly if we are going to continue to have success in the leading value market for U.S. beef and pork.”
Japan’s tariffs on beef variety meat are lower, but U.S. shipments are subject to a duty of 12.8% while competitors pay less than half that rate.
Other first quarter highlights for U.S. beef include:
- Beef muscle cut exports to Mexico continued to shine, with first quarter volume up 14% from a year ago to 35,481 mt and value climbing 16% to $220.7 million. While variety meat exports trended lower year-over-year, combined beef/beef variety volume still increased 1% to 57,591 mt while value jumped 12% to $280.2 million.
- Exports to Taiwan were 3% above last year’s record pace at 13,487 mt, though value slipped 7% to $117.8 million. U.S. beef dominates Taiwan’s chilled beef market with nearly 75% market share – the highest of any Asian destination.
- CAFTA-DR markets continue to be an excellent source of growth for U.S. beef exports, with first quarter volume to Central America up 15% from a year ago to 3,628 mt and value up 19% to $21.2 million. Exports to the Dominican Republic soared 71% to 2,345 mt valued at $18.9 million (up 65%).
- Lower exports to Hong Kong and Canada offset some of the first quarter growth in other markets. Exports to Hong Kong trailed last year’s pace by 36% in volume (21,304 mt) and 30% in value ($177.1 million). Exports to Canada were down 14% in both volume (23,199 mt) and value ($143.8 million).
- U.S. exports to China were up 4% from a year ago to 1,723 mt, but this came at lower prices as export value fell 17% to $13.2 million. There is tremendous potential in the Chinese market for U.S. beef, but due to China’s restrictive import requirements and retaliatory duties pushing the tariff rate to 37%, U.S. prices are significantly higher than the competition. By comparison, most beef suppliers are subject to a 12% tariff in China while beef from New Zealand is duty-free and Australian beef pays only a 6% rate. Australia’s grain-fed beef exports to China in the first quarter totaled 14,347 mt, up 77% year-over-year.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will travel to Japan and South Korea next week to participate in the G-20 Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting. The travel itinerary also includes meetings with his counterparts on global agriculture issues.
The Secretary will deliver a keynote address at the G-20 Innovation and Agriculture seminar this Saturday and speak at the Cotton Council International’s annual Cotton Day on May 14. As part of his meetings, Perdue will join his counterparts from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and Mexico to discuss global agriculture issues.
The Secretary has planned meetings with U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty, and Japan’s State Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare, along with Korea’s Agriculture Minister.
During the trip, Perdue will attend a U.S. Meat Export Federation promotional event highlighting the importance of the Japanese market for U.S. meat, as USDA says Japan is the top overseas market for U.S. beef and pork. Finally, Perdue will attend the U.S.-Japan Agriculture Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, as part of his travels.
The U.S. and Japan are meeting again to wrap up the week in the second round of trade talks. Japan’s Economy Minister is meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Meanwhile, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to meet President Donald Trump today (Friday) in Washington. The negotiations continue to focus on reaching a quick agreement on agriculture and automobiles. The U.S. wants better access to Japan’s agricultural products market, as trade agreements between Japan and other nations have made products from other countries more lucrative to Japanese buyers.
Nearly 100 farm groups sent a letter to Lighthizer this week outlining the market loss U.S. producers are facing from competing trade agreements, including the new Trans-Pacific Partnership, the agreement Trump removed the U.S. from upon taking office. Just last week, the U.S. and Japan agreed to accelerate trade talks to reach a fast agreement.
Japan’s exports declined in March as shipments to China dropped more than 9%, pulling the nation’s trade surplus sharply lower.
The data released Wednesday by the Finance Ministry was more or less in line with forecasts. The report followed two days of trade talks with the U.S. in Washington aimed at redressing the chronic imbalance in Japan’s favor, which totaled $67.6 billion in 2018 according to U.S. figures.
Exports from Japan, the world’s 3rd largest economy, fell 2.4% from a year earlier to 7.2 trillion yen ($64 billion), while imports rose 1% to 6.7 trillion yen ($59 billion). The trade surplus dropped 32% from a year earlier to 528.5 billion yen ($4.7 billion), customs figures showed.
Exports to the U.S., Japan’s biggest single overseas market, rose 4.4% while imports fell, increasing the politically sensitive trade surplus by nearly 10, to 683.6 billion yen ($6.1 billion), up 9.8% from the same month a year earlier.
Japan’s exports to China fell 9.4% from a year earlier, reflecting lower demand as the economy slows amid a trade war with the U.S. over Beijing’s technology ambitions.
Darren Aw of Capital Economics said in a commentary that the deficit in March was not a significant concern and that overall, trade may have contributed to economic growth in the last quarter.
“The bigger picture, however, remains unchanged — the outlook for external demand remains weak,” he said.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s office said in a statement that he and Japan’s trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi agreed to continue talks soon.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference that he received a report from Washington that the two sides had started negotiations in line with an agreement last September between Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The talks included trade in agricultural products and autos.
“I expect we will have constructive talks so that we have meaningful results that serve our national interest,” he said.
Motegi told reporters that he told Lighthizer that Japan will not compromise on imports of agricultural products, saying that the conditions agreed in past negotiations are as far as Japan could go.
Japan made significant concessions on imports of dairy and other farm products during tough negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a Pacific Rim trade deal that President Donald Trump withdrew from shortly after taking office in 2017.
“In the area of agricultural products, conditions we have promised in past economic cooperation is as far as we can go. I have told him that that’s the line Japan cannot go beyond,” he said.
Japan’s conservative ruling party, the Liberal Democrats, have traditionally relied on strong support from rural voters and have sought to protect the country’s farm sector from foreign competition.