Australia’s beef exports to Japan during October totalled 29,750 tonnes, a 4.8 percent rise on September and almost 9pc higher than the same month last year.
Putting that into better context, however, the October 2010 export tonnage figure was particularly low, being 12.2pc below the year previous.
While the most recent monthly figures are trending upwards, calendar year 2011 to date figures show exports to Japan have reached 278,466 tonnes, about 4.5pc below January-October 2010’s figure of 291,000t, and further still below the same period on 2009 of more than 300,000t.
Illustrating the ongoing tight economic environment in Japan is the shift in trade from chilled to frozen beef shipments.
Chilled beef comprised only 12,000t in October, while the January-October cumulative chilled beef total reached only 115,312t, or 41pc of the total trade, down 9.9pc due to weak beef demand overall as well as intensified competition from US exports.
Frozen Australian exports rose 15pc year-on-year in October, reaching 162,417t for the year to date.
In early November trade last week, improving beef demand from the US and other markets reportedly lifted offer prices for Australian beef to Japan.
Interest for frozen beef was particularly strong across the markets, with Japanese buyers having to compete for 85CL and other popular items in order to secure products for the higher beef demand season in late November and December.
While there was more Japanese media speculation on possible US/Japan beef trade negotiations last week, there has still been no official confirmation made by the Japanese government about any revision in trade protocols relaxing the current under 20 months rule for US exports.
Some commentators are saying the Government’s formal announcement about a review process will occur during Japan/US trade talks between President Obama and Prime Minister Noda as part of the APEC meetings in Hawaii this week.
Increasing offer prices from the US and strong demand for beef internationally remain a concern for Japanese buyers, but some sectors, including the yakiniku (Japanese/Korean barbecue) sector, are keenly anticipating any change in protocols for US beef.
The US beef issue has become highly politicised in Japan, especially in relation to debate within Japan about participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership. Prime Minister Noda stated in an Upper House plenary session last week that TPP would have additional effects on Japan’s Gross Domestic Product, but anti-TPP Diet members of ruling and opposition parties are scheduling to hold an anti-TPP meeting this week in Tokyo.