Current Progressive Cattle digital edition

Global beef roundup: Experts mixed on Japan’s meat trade recovery

Clint Peck Published on 01 May 2011

“It’s too soon to tell,” say various experts who have started to weigh in on the potential impact of Japan’s tragic earthquake and resulting tsunami on beef imports by the island nation.

Japan is the largest customer for U.S. beef and pork exports in terms of dollar value. Japan accounted for 30 percent of U.S. pork exports and 15 percent of U.S. beef exports last year, according to Meat Trade News Daily.

While the first concern has been port damage, early news reports indicate tsunami damage centered on northern ports.

Most meat trade goes through Japan’s southern ports. Of Japan’s 12 major ports, it appears that only two sustained major damage, according to Archer Financial Services commodity broker Dennis Smith in an Inside Futures report.

Another concern is refrigeration and infrastructure to deliver meat imports from the docks.

While those problems exist in the hardest-hit areas, news reports indicate the power grid is working in most areas, with an ability to divert power to supply other areas as needed.

Some experts are predicting an intermediate-term boost in meat trade as infrastructure is restored and beef and pork supplies are replenished.

Plenty of news footage has shown empty-shelved grocery stores in affected areas. There are also reports of local livestock destruction, which could also temporarily boost the need for imported meat.

“The short-term impact may indeed be negative, but stocks of food and other items will eventually be replenished and that process will be a positive for U.S. exports,” according to the CME’s Daily Livestock Report (DLR) published by livestock analysts Steve Meyer and Len Steiner.

In terms of the broader Japanese economy and its longer-term effect on meat import demand, the DLR noted that while there is clearly economic loss, the process of rebuilding could actually boost the Japanese economy in the months to come.

At this point, experts are not expecting any dramatic impact on Japan’s meat import requirements over the long term.

“Right now, we have little reason to think consumer demand in Japan will suffer significantly or that trade will be dramatically impacted,” says U.S. Meat Export Federation spokesman Joe Schuele.

He says major population centers have been impacted to a much lesser degree than the tragic impact on communities along the northeast coastline of Japan.

“How Japan’s national economy will weather this disaster and how quickly it will recover is obviously a more complex question,” he added.

The question of long-term beef demand depends greatly on the future of the overall Japanese economy.

If rebuilding efforts provide a stimulus, protein demand could strengthen long-term. However, if higher energy prices and taxes to fund rebuilding result in slower long-term economic growth, protein demand will obviously suffer.

Canada Gold Beef has shipped 120 metric tons of Canadian hormone-free beef, worth over $1.5 million, to European Union (EU) markets this year since the government of Canada negotiated new duty-free access. Shipments are expected to continue at the same pace for the foreseeable future.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz congratulated the company for its success in responding to a market opportunity made possible by the new duty-free access for Canadian beef announced last November.

In January, Minister Ritz also led a trade mission to Europe and showcased Canadian beef and other world-class Canadian food products to international buyers and media.

Canada Gold Beef Inc., a company based in Alberta, is a value-added marketing organization supplying premium branded beef products to both domestic and international markets.

Unfettered meat imports from South America’s Mercosur trading bloc (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) would lead to the total collapse of the EU beef sector.

That’s according to European farm sector union COPA, and its partner farm co-op organization, Cogeca. They say a new trade deal with South America threatens an apocalyptic scenario for Europe’s beef producers.

In a letter sent to EU Commissioner Dacian Ciolos the last week of March, COPA president Padraig Walshe and Cogeca president Paolo Bruni warned: “If trade is fully liberalized between the two sides, it is estimated to result in losses to the EU beef sector of as much as €25 billion.

A deal would also increase price volatility and cause a huge rise in pork, poultry, maize, imports to the EU from these countries.”

COPA-Cogeca’s report on the Mercosur threat concluded that its agricultural sector was producing the same goods as the EU, and that Mercosur was already a major exporter of food products to the EU, accounting for more than 90 percent of beef imports.

“With further liberalization of trade with Mercosur, we will become more dependent on imports and the EU’s food security will be increasingly affected by climatic conditions or political decisions on agriculture from these countries,” warned the two presidents.

COPA-Cogeca also predicted that increased food exports from South America would double the level of carbon dioxide emissions, hijacking the EU’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  end_mark

Clint Peck is the owner of Global Beef Systems, LLC. Reach him at