After TPP withdrawal, United States beef farmers face big Japan tariff

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Japan's Ministry of Finance (MOF) said on Friday the country will raise tariffs on frozen beef imports from the US and other countries to protect domestic producers starting in August.

The increase, from 38.5 percent to 50 percent, will begin August 1, 2017 and last through March 31, 2018.

Trade data released earlier Friday showed that frozen beef imports reached 89,253 tons in the April-June quarter, up 17.1% from a year earlier.

Allowed under World Trade Organization rules, Japan automatically introduces the so-called safeguard tariffs when imports grow more than 17% in a quarter on a year-on-year basis.

The surge is mainly due to a recovery in USA beef production and a drop in price following the end of a drought in the United States, according to a farm ministry official. But the USA also faces stiff competition from Australia, whose free trade agreement with Japan means it does not face the same emergency tariffs. "Japan is the top export market for US beef in both volume and value, and anything that restricts our sales to Japan will have a negative impact on America's ranching families and our Japanese consumers".

The tariff hike comes as the U.S. beef industry is expecting an increase in supplies, according to two recent U.S. Department of Agriculture reports.

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Japan was the top export market for USA beef, valued at $1.5 billion in 2016.

The tariff hike could become a source of contention with the United States at a time when the administration of President Donald Trump is calling on Tokyo to further open its agricultural market and take steps for "fair trade" with the United States, which continues to run trade deficits with Japan. The duty increases from 38.5% to 50% when imports exceed the safeguard volume.

Industry players were concerned that the Japanese tariffs would put US producers at a disadvantage to Australian rivals, who were not subject to a tariff hike due to a trade agreement between the two countries.

"This comes at a very bad time for USA beef producers because of the huge 4th quarter production just around the corner", said Dennis Smith, a commodities broker at Archer Financial Services in Chicago.

By volume, total USA beef sales to Japan for January-May came in at 123,290 tonnes, compared with 96,394 tonnes a year ago. "Japan also agreed to similar terms in its economic partnership agreement with Mexico and in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)".

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