Japan's decision to lift a two-year ban on U.S. beef imports could strengthen the current cattle market.

“It should be a positive thing for cattle prices,” said Dr. David Anderson, Texas Cooperative Extension livestock economist. “As we start re-capturing some market share, that's going to pull some supplies off an already tight market.”

It may take some time to see the market effect of the announcement, Anderson said. Japan was the largest trading partner for U.S. beef before the end of 2003, importing $1.4 billion worth of beef.

“Since that time, the Japan filled the void with Australian beef and imports of U.S. pork,” Anderson said. “How soon we recapture that market share is the key question to how soon we'll see the impact of the decision. It may be a long-term process. It's highly likely it won't be an overnight thing.”

Another factor is gauging how fast Japanese consumers return to eating U.S. beef, Anderson said. Various reports have shown a majority of consumers are hesitant about buying U.S. beef, but Anderson said it's hard to draw conclusions.

Japan's decision comes at a time when seasonal supplies of cattle are “tight.”

“We're at a point during the cattle cycle where we have low supplies of cattle and low supplies of beef,” Anderson said. “That plays into high cattle prices and we've all seen high beef prices at the grocery store.

“That also plays into exports as well when we have a higher-priced commodity, it makes it tougher to move into the market place.”

Southwestern legislators voiced their pleasure over lifting the ban.

U.S. Third District Congressman Frank Lucas has urged use of sound science in reopening the U.S. export beef market. He and with other members of the House Agriculture Committee met with Japanese Ambassador Ryozo Kato earlier this year to encourage the end of Japan's restriction of beef imports from the United States under what he terms the pretense of a threat of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy.

“This is great news for the U.S. beef market and our Oklahoma beef producers,” Lucas said. “I'm pleased we were finally able to convince the Japanese government to use scientific methods to determine that U.S. beef is safe from BSE.

“I would have liked to have seen this decision a long time ago. We have known since the Japanese ban was enacted that U.S. beef is safe, and I believe that the Japanese dragged their feet on this issue, causing our producers to lose market share. “Unfortunately, I believe financial considerations were being made, instead of the real issues of ensuring food safety and using sound science.

“Now we must focus on Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore, all of which inexplicably remain closed to U.S. beef imports. I hope Japan's announcement will help officials in those countries see that the U.S. beef supply is not only safe, but also the highest quality beef in the world. We will continue our work to enlighten them.”

Texas Congressman Randy Neugebauer agrees that the action is belated.

“The move by Japan to complete steps needed to reopen its market to American beef is a development that is long overdue and one that is good news for Texas cattle producers,” Neugebauer said. “The ability of our farmers and ranchers to sell their products in foreign markets is vital to the success of the agriculture industry in this country.

“I am pleased that the Japanese government has finally reached the conclusion already reached by consumers across the United States: U.S. beef is safe and is a high quality product. I hope additional nations follow the lead of Japan and again allow their consumers to enjoy U.S. beef.”

Japan is a major market for U.S. beef. In 2003, the United States exported $1.4 billion worth of beef and beef products to Japan.