More than two months have now passed since Japan announced a long-awaited regulatory change that allows imports of U.S. beef from cattle less than 30 months of age – up from the previous limit of 21 months. This change in market access officially took effect Feb. 1. Exports to Japan made modest gains in February while the U.S. industry made this transition, but weekly trade data suggest a larger boost is likely when March export results are announced.

Notable changes in demand are also taking place at the point of sale. According to results reported by Japan’s Agriculture and Livestock Industries Corporation (ALIC) for March, supermarket sales of U.S. beef in Japan surged 36.5 percent compared to a year ago. Sales of Australian beef declined 16.7 percent, while domestic sales results were mixed: Wagyu sales increased 1.3 percent, but beef from Japan’s other domestic cattle declined 12.7 percent.

Greg Hanes, U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) assistant vice president for international marketing, recently attended FoodEx Japan – Asia’s largest food trade show and one of the world’s most important venues for exhibiting U.S. beef. He reports an enthusiastic reception from Japanese buyers eager to have access to a broader and more reliable supply of U.S. beef. This is especially true among representatives of local and regional companies who had difficulty obtaining U.S. beef under the 21-month cattle age restriction. Hanes adds that the higher cattle age limit will also allow more Prime beef and well-marbled Choice cuts to be eligible for export to Japan.