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Japan May Ease U.S. Beef-Import Limits by April, Group Says

Japan may ease its policy on limiting U.S. beef imports to cattle age 20 months or younger, U.S. Meat Export Federation Chief Executive Philip Seng said.

“Our expectation is that it would be no later than April 1 that Japan would be able to move beyond the 20 months,” Seng said today on a conference call with reporters.

Japan, the third-largest buyer of U.S. beef last year, limits U.S. shipments on concern that older animals may be at higher risk for mad cow disease. The government’s health ministry said this week that those restrictions should be relaxed.

U.S. beef exports may climb to about 1.3 million metric tons (2.87 billion pounds) next year, or a value of $5.57 billion, the federation forecasts. That compares with an estimated 1.24 million tons and $5.09 billion in 2011. Next year, 15 percent of U.S. beef output, including variety meats, may be exported, compared with 14 percent this year, the group says.

These estimates are “a bit more conservative” and assume the change in Japan’s policy will come in the middle of next year, Joe Schuele, a federation spokesman, said in an e-mail. The forecasts, calculated in the past few weeks, came before the latest trade indications from Japan, he said.

Total U.S. pork shipments next year may rise to 2.115 million tons, valued at $5.6 billion, Seng said. That compares with 2.11 million tons and $5.45 billion this year. About 28 percent of production will be shipped next year, compared with 27 percent in 2011, the federation says.

Last year, Mexico was the biggest buyer of U.S. beef, followed by Canada.

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