This fall Jesse Austin joined the U.S. Meat Export Federation as its new vice president of marketing. Austin recently returned from meetings in Japan, a market where he has previous experience, and says the business climate is very positive given the new U.S.-Japan trade agreement.
"In early December, I had the opportunity to meet with various representatives from the Japan trade in Tokyo and this ranged from distributors to U.S.-based packers and processors and end-users there in Japan," Austin says. "Of course, our visit was coming right as the trade agreement was being inked, so a lot of optimism in the market, a lot of excitement to once again have a level playing field and to have the tariff disadvantage behind us."
The U.S.-Japan trade agreement entered into force on Jan. 1, and a second round of tariff rate reductions will take place April 1 when the new Japanese fiscal year begins.
Austin joined USMEF in October after 17 years representing the U.S. pork packer segment. During his time with Smithfield Foods, he served two years in Tokyo.
"When we opened the Tokyo-based office at the time, we anticipated TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) to happen, so we were trying to be proactive and put some boots on the ground there," Austin says. "I served two years there working directly with customers to learn how they're using American products, how the products work for them and how we could improve our service."
Austin says the optimism is not only coming from the end user, but also the USMEF staff in Tokyo.
"Everybody is really excited about the future in Japan, excited to be aggressive with some of the market activities where we're going to employ a lot more facetime with the end users and we're going to coordinate with suppliers and distributors to recapture some of the market share that we've lost," Austin says. "Having the trade situation resolved does put the focus back on the product itself and that was the message we relayed to everybody we met with. Historically, Japan has been the most consistent and reliable trading partner for American agriculture, and we intend to keep it that way."