The American Sheep Industry Association joined the American Lamb Board, the U.S. Meat Export Federation, Mountain States Rosen Company and Superior Farms in writing a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack requesting that his agencies make it a priority to restore access of U.S. lamb exports to Japan.
Japan banned imports of lamb from the United States in December 2003 when the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was detected in the U.S. cattle herd. The Japanese government explained its decision to block imports of U.S. lamb on the grounds that the Japanese Food Sanitation Law prohibits imports of ruminant products from a country that has had reported cases of a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, including BSE in cattle.
In late 2011, the government of Japan initiated a scientific assessment of the public and animal health risks associated with expanding access to its market for beef imports from the United States. Japan concluded its risk assessment and further opened its market to U.S. beef on February 1 of this year. At that time, the government of Japan agreed to follow a similar process for addressing its restrictions on imports of a number of other U.S. animal products, including lamb. This commitment was encouraging but there has been no evidence since then that the government of Japan is turning its attention to restoring access for U.S. lamb.
The U.S. lamb industry has identified regaining access to the Japanese market as one of its top three market access priorities. Japan has no domestic lamb industry so U.S. lamb would compete only with imports from other countries. Japan was a top-five market for U.S. lamb before it was closed. If the United States could capture 10 percent of Japan's market share, it is estimated that exports could easily reach $13 million. The added revenue that would result from resuming exports to Japan would contribute to the profitability of the lamb industry and further diversify the industry's portfolio of available markets.
It is understood that in the context of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, the government of Japan has agreed to address non-tariff barriers (NTB) in talks with the United States that will run parallel to the bilateral negotiations on market access. In our view, these NTB negotiations should create the ideal opportunity to address Japan's restrictions on U.S. lamb exports, the letter concluded.