Exports to Japan tipped to rise

Rebecca TurnerCountryman

Almost a month since the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, it has been predicted that demand for imported food — including Australian beef — will rise.

Meat and Livestock Australia Japan regional manager Melanie Brock, who has lived in Japan for more than 20 years, said it was too early to know the extent of damage to the Japanese beef industry.

However, Ms Brock said reports indicated that as of March 31, total damage to farmland exceeded 277.7 billion yen ($A3.18 billion), agricultural facilities 172.76 billion yen and forests 19.14 billion yen.

Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (MAFF) was investigating damage to livestock, hot houses and horticultural products, as well as damage to cattle sheds and agricultural products.

About 23,600 hectares of farmland was affected by the tsunami, and more than 10 per cent of cultivated farmland was damaged in Miyagi Prefecture.

Following the disaster, Ms Brock said there had been an increase in exports of Australian beef and lamb to Japan during March.

Australian beef exports to Japan during the month of March reached 31,825 tonnes shipped weight (swt) — a drop of 19 per cent on March 2010 figures but an increase of 6 per cent on February 2011 exports.

Lamb exports also increased during March to a total of 923 tonnes swt, an increase of 6 per cent from the same time last year. Exports were up 140 per cent on February’s figures.

Ms Brock said Japanese consumers were likely to turn to imported beef as a source of protein, because the country’s pork and chicken producing areas had been affected by the tsunami.

She said consumer sentiment in Tokyo had affected the food service industry, and power cuts and reduced transport availability had prompted outlets to reduce operational hours.

“Beef consumption in the west of Japan has not been affected and is considered normal,” Ms Brock said.

“Impacts on lamb consumption is likely to be very low.”

Ms Brock said consumer concern about nuclear contamination in food grown near the Fukushima nuclear plant may create further demand for imported food.

She said Australian beef had a strong profile in Japan and Australia had a majority market share of imported beef, with various programs in place to ensure this continued.

While the high Australian dollar was expected to have an impact on imports, Ms Brock said beef exports from the US were still limited by Japanese import requirements.

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