Japan’s April beef/beef variety meat imports were the largest in 12 months, though still down 10 percent from last April’s surge. Imports totaled 58,772 mt, with growth from the U.S (20,273 mt, +22 percent) and Canada (1,672 mt, +327 percent) partially offsetting lower imports from Australia (34,182, -23 percent). For January through April, imports were still 6 percent below last year’s pace at 91,886 mt, as an increase from the U.S. (65,129 mt, +6 percent) didn’t fully offset the decline from Australia (91,886 mt, -10 percent).
Japan’s chilled beef imports were up 5 percent through April at 66,692 mt, with a strong increase from the U.S. (26,173 mt, +40 percent) offsetting lower volumes from Australia (37,455 mt, -10 percent). Frozen beef imports were down 16 percent to 81,913 mt, with decreases for all main suppliers including Australia (46,494 mt, -11.5 percent) and the U.S. (27,508 mt, -15 percent). Although the new fiscal year brought a new round of duty reductions for Australian beef (now 27.5 percent for frozen and 30.5 percent for chilled), this is only 1 percentage point lower than last year. Duty rate reductions under the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement were front-loaded with the biggest impact occurring last year. Australia’s higher prices are now offsetting some of that advantage, although its industry is still benefiting from the weak Australian dollar, which has lost further value versus the yen.
In late May, Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) announced that it will suspend live cattle imports from Australia due to Johne’s disease. Imports of Australian feeder cattle (about 9,400 head in 2015) account for roughly 1 percent of Japan’s total cattle slaughter. In the first quarter of this year, Japan’s cattle slaughter was down 6 percent, so any prolonged suspension of cattle imports from Australia will add to the tight supply situation. Wagyu steer carcass prices averaged $10.60/lb. in April, up 29 percent year-over-year. Indicative of tight future supplies, Japan’s wagyu feeder cattle prices were record-high in April, averaging $7,312 per head, up 38 percent from a year ago.
Japan’s pork/pork variety meat imports continued to trend above year-ago levels in April, increasing 4 percent to 96,652 metric tons (mt). This included larger chilled imports, steady frozen imports and larger volumes of ground seasoned pork. April chilled imports were up 11 percent to 30,966 mt, pushing the January-April total to 118,528 mt (+23 percent). Growth was driven by larger imports from the U.S. (69,951 mt, +32 percent from a year ago and above 2014 levels) and Canada (44,556 mt, +16.5 percent).
Frozen pork imports were steady in April (45,209 mt) but up 11 percent for January through April at 166,754 mt. Growth was driven by larger volumes from the European Union (107,863 mt, +34 percent) and Mexico (20,177 mt, +19 percent), as frozen imports from the U.S. and Canada continue to decline. However, imports of ground seasoned pork finally rebounded in April, increasing 15 percent from a year ago to 13,382 mt and pushing the January-April total to 41,377 mt (+9 percent). Imports from the U.S. were up 10 percent to 28,754 mt, while imports from Canada fell 16 percent to 5,784 mt. The Netherlands and Germany have been shipping more ground seasoned pork to Japan, with imports from the EU reaching 4,753 mt (+133 percent).
Reflecting the increase in frozen imports, Japan’s frozen inventories of imported pork increased in March but were still down 5 percent from last year at 153,428 mt. Inventories of domestic pork were down 4 percent to 15,952 mt. Japan’s pork production continued to rebound strongly in March at 79,294 mt, up 6 percent year-over-year. Correspondingly, Japan’s hog prices dipped below the five-year average in April. Prices averaged $2.00/lb., down 10 percent from a year ago.