Japan relaxes imported-beef restrictions for four countries, including Canada

OTTAWA – Canadian cattle producers say they’re pleased Japan is relaxing restrictions on imported beef from Canada and three other countries a decade after raising barriers amid the so-called mad cow disease scare.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry announced Monday it will allow imports of beef from cows up to 30 months old, effective this Friday. The previous standard was to ban imports of beef from animals older than 20 months.

“This is an exciting announcement and we’ve been looking forward to this for quite some time,” Martin Unrau, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said in a teleconference.

“This announcement is very significant for Canadian cattle producers. Japan is extremely important market and this expanded access will breathe new life into the Canadian beef sector.”

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz called the deal “tremendous news.”

“This achievement is a result of a lot of hard work on the part of the government working shoulder to shoulder with industry both here in Canada and through our embassy in Japan,” Ritz said.

The Canadian government estimates the potential market value of beef exports to Japan will rise to between $140 million and $150 million a year, about double what they have been.

Japan’s Health Ministry approved the change — which also applies to beef imports from the United States, France and Netherlands — following public hearings.

“As part of our government’s plan to create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians by opening new markets, we have been working closely with Japan to expand access for our exporters,” said Trade Minister Ed Fast.

“Today’s announcement is proof that these efforts are getting results, and we look forward to taking our trading relationship with Japan to the next level through an Economic Partnership Agreement which would provide additional export opportunities for Canadian businesses.”

The beef industry’s marketing arm, Canada Beef Inc., said the decision could “potentially double Canadian beef sales to Japan.”

“Japanese customers will soon enjoy increased availability of high-quality Canadian beef, and Canada’s cattle producers and beef industry will greatly benefit from increased trade with Japan,” the organization said in a release.

Japan banned beef imports in 2003 from several countries after a fatal brain disease was discovered in a few animals, leading to concern that eating their meat could pose a health risk for humans.

Canadian beef producers were hit hard by the import bans imposed by Japan and other countries, including the United States. The Canadian monitoring system was also criticized and later improved.

Japan is Canada’s third-largest export market for beef. Canadian exports of beef from animals under 21 months of age for the last three years were worth approximately $70 million to $75 million a year.

The new rules are expected to double that.

— with files from The Associated Press