Japan won’t be a big market for beef but it’s a prestigious one

Re-opening of Japanese market to Irish beef comes after years of negotiations

Sun shines over Toyko. Today, Japan’s urban population accounts for more than 90% of the total population and agriculture is only 1% of its economic activity. Photograph: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Sun shines over Toyko. Today, Japan’s urban population accounts for more than 90% of the total population and agriculture is only 1% of its economic activity. Photograph: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Tue, Dec 3, 2013, 01:00

The reopening of the Japanese market to Irish beef is a shot in the arm for the beef industry and comes after years of talks between the Department of Agriculture, Bord Bia and Japanese authorities.

Japan is the largest importer of beef in Asia, buying more than 514,000 tonnes last year.

It banned beef from the EU in the wake of the BSE crisis in 2001, but in the previous year Ireland exported 3,000 tonnes of beef and offal to Japan, valued at some €10 million.

Given that Ireland exports some 260,000 tonnes of beef to the UK, Japan w ill not be a major market but it is a prestigious one because of the high standards it demands.

IFA president John Bryan says getting approval from Japan really enhances the reputation of Irish beef because it tells other markets that our beef adheres to the highest standards.

The fact that companies on this week’s trade mission represent more than 90 per cent of Irish beef exports shows just how seriously they are taking this market.

They see opportunities for beef offal as it commands a higher premium in Japan than here, and they also see potential for high-value, high-quarter cuts.

Having a secure supply of food is something we take for granted, but it is a major concern for Japanese people who import 60 per cent of their food requirements. According to Bord Bia’s chief executive Aidan Cotter, up to 50 per cent of Japan’s economic activity was dominated by agriculture in the past but that figure is just 1 per cent today.

Today, its urban population accounts for more than 90 per cent of the total population.

Bord Bia will be hoping this is not the only good news to come from Japan.

It is the world’s 12th largest consumer of pork and, again, relies heavily on imports to meet this demand. Its demand for dairy products is growing and Irish cheese exports were valued at €6.4 million last year, a 33 per cent increase in value over the past four years.

Irish whiskey is growing in popularity and artisan producers are making inroads in areas such as shellfish, craft beers and confectionary.

Donegal’s Irish Premium Oysters exports more than 2,500 Irish oysters to Tokyo each week, while Japanese consumers can now lay their hands on products such as Cashel Blue and Durrus cheeses, Jameson, Baileys and Tullamore Dew.

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