Japan's agricultural imports (nearly $60 billion in 2013) make it the world's fourth-largest importer, after the United States, China, and the European Union (EU). Based on total calories consumed, Japan imports about 60 percent of its food each year. Japan is the fourth-largest market for U.S. agriculture, accounting for $12.1 billion in U.S. exports in 2013. The United States is the leading agricultural supplier to Japan. Imports from the United States ($13.8 billion, including shipping costs) represent almost one-fourth of Japan's total agricultural imports. ASEAN, China and the EU-27 are the next-largest suppliers. Together, they supplied 31 percent of imports in 1994 and 39 percent in 2013, after peaking at 41 percent in 2006. In recent years, Japan’s imports from a variety of smaller exporters (including Canada and Brazil) have shown strong growth (see ROW—for Rest of World—in the chart below). Japan's agricultural exports in 2013 exceeded $3 billion. U.S. agricultural imports from Japan exceeded $565 million in 2013.
Meats are the largest component of Japan's agricultural imports-about 20 percent in recent years. Japan imports large quantities of pork, beef, and poultry meat. Based on the value of imports, Japan is the largest meat-importing country in the world. Because Japan allows frozen and chilled beef and pork to enter only from countries free of foot-and-mouth disease, the number of countries exporting such meat to Japan is small. In 2004 and 2005, Japan's ban on beef imports from the United States and Canada (because of fears of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE) essentially restricted beef trade to Australia and New Zealand (see Beef Imports in the Issues and Analysis chapter).
Import barriers benefit Japanese farmers, especially those producing rice, milk for manufacturing, sugar beets and sugarcane, and wheat. Japan maintains tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) for some commodities, including:
- Rice and rice flour,
- Wheat and wheat flour, and
- Butter and milk powder.
Imports outside the TRQs face high tariffs. Within some of the quotas, government-owned corporations have the sole right to import, and the imported commodities are resold into Japan's market with a high markup in price.
Japan's border policies also protect certain food processing industries. Strict government control over wheat, rice, dairy, and sugar products encourages processing of foods made from those commodities in Japan. Tariffs on vegetable oils make crushing margins high enough to sustain Japan's soybean and canola crushing industry. Despite the protection of flour milling, sugar refining, and butter and milk powder production, Japan's imports of processed foods and beverages are over $7 billion.
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