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HMRC reported almost £2m worth of beef as having been exported to Japan in January

British beef sales to Japan, a major importer with a gross domestic product lagging only the US and China, jumped significantly at the start of the year, according to AHDB.

Citing HMRC trade data, the levy board reported almost £2m worth of beef as having been exported to Japan in January. This figure was equivalent to a fifth of the annual total exports to Japan last year and more than 10 times the amount sent in January 2021, it added.

While Japan remained a “complex” and “competitive” market, according to Jonathan Eckley – AHDB’s Asia-Pacific head – its annual beef imports, which AHDB said were worth around £2.7bin, meant there should be room for British producers to carve out a market share.

AHDB had made Japan “one of the key target markets for exports, showcasing the UK’s beef, pork and lamb products to businesses across the country”, Eckley said.

Tokyo only opened its freezer doors to British beef in 2019, before the UK signed a trade deal with Japan the following year as part of its attempts to replace or replicate arrangements it had been party to as a member of the European Union.

Britain faced competition from beef exporting powerhouses in Australia and the Americas, which already accounted for most of Japan’s colossal imports. US trade representative Katherine Tai on Thursday touted US exporters’ readiness “to meet Japan’s growing demand for high-quality beef”.

But Britain’s early-year export figures were “a great start” and a testament to the efforts of AHDB’s exports team, according to Neil Shand, CEO of the National Beef Association.

“The potential is there to grow and Japan is a country that imports a lot of beef,” Shand said. 

Peter Hardwick, trade policy advisor to the British Meat Processors Association, said: “We have always thought this [Japan] was a good market for high-value beef.”