January 6, 2004



Japan Turns To Australia and New Zealand Beef


Japanese officials are set to visit Australia and New Zealand to discuss increasing beef imports from the two countries after Japan imposed a ban on US beef.


Japanese ministry of agriculture officials were due to arrive in Australia on Thursday to meet cattle farmers in northern Queensland state before heading to New Zealand on the weekend, a Japanese Embassy spokesman in Sydney said on Tuesday.


Japan, the top overseas market for U.S. beef, suspended beef imports from the United States immediately after the December 23 announcement of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease.


"They decided to (investigate) Australia and New Zealand's export potential," Koji Otani, a vice-consul at the Japanese Embassy, told Reuters.


Japan imported about 534,000 tonnes of beef in the year through March 2003. Almost half, 240,000 tonnes, came from the United States.


Australia is Japan's other major supplier. It exported 277,300 tonnes of beef to Japan worth A$1.4 billion ($1.1 billion) in the year through June 2003, Meat and Livestock Australia figures show. New Zealand exported 10,962 tons of beef and veal to Japan in 2002.


Replacing American imports could almost double Australasian beef sales to Japan, but there was concern that demand might outstrip supply -- especially if other Asian nations came shopping for beef, as the industry expected.


"It's about both the Australian and New Zealand industries being able to meet the shortfall of imports from the ban on U.S. products," said Mark Jeffries, the chief executive of industry body Meat New Zealand.


Japanese government officials will meet with New Zealand officials and industry representatives on Monday, Jeffries said.


However, he said Japan favoured grain-fed beef, which has a milder flavour than the grass-fed beef that New Zealand mainly produces, although there may be an opportunity for the New Zealand product to be introduced to a new set of consumers.


Japan has told U.S. officials that it is still too early to discuss easing the import suspension.