Age restrictions on US beef exports to Japan have been lifted, paving the way for increased American sales into one of Australia's best international markets.
The US is the world's largest beef producer and has the greatest overlap with Australia's high value export markets including the US domestic market.
US Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, announced the breakthrough after meeting Japanese officials during the G20 Agriculture Ministerial Meeting in Niigata, Japan.
He said the new terms, which took effect immediately, would allow US products from all cattle, regardless of age, to enter Japan for the first time since 2003.
The US Department of Agriculture estimated the expanded access could increase US beef exports to Japan by up to $US200 million annually.
Japan banned US beef and beef products in December 2003 following the detection of a BSE-positive animal in the United States.
Two years later Japan restored partial access for US beef muscle cuts and offal items from cattle 20 months of age and younger.
In February, 2013, Japan extended access to include beef and beef products from cattle less than 30 months of age.
In April, 2017, Japan eliminated its age-based BSE testing on domestic Japanese cattle, paving the way for similar age-based restrictions to be lifted on negligible BSE-risk trading partners including the US.
US Meat Export Federation president and CEO, Dan Halstrom, said the decision was a major step towards putting BSE in the rear view mirror of the global beef trade.
"While most of the US beef shipped to Japan will continue to be from fed cattle under 30 months of age, the opportunities for over 30-month beef cuts and beef variety meat are significant," he said.
The USMEF estimated that removal of the cattle age restriction would increase exports to Japan by seven to 10 per cent, or by $US150 million to $US200 million a year.
Beef cuts from over 30-month cattle most likely to achieve success with Japanese buyers included short plate, chuck eye rolls, short ribs, middle meats, clods and briskets, he said.
For the first quarter of 2019, US beef exports were slightly below last year's record pace, according to March data released by the US Department of Agriculture.
The US is giving Australia tough competition in key Asian markets, notably Japan and South Korea.
US beef exports in March totalled 107,655 tonnes, down four per cent year-on-year while value fell two per cent to $US678 million.
For the first quarter, exports were down three per cent to 307,306 tonnes valued at $1.9 billion.
South Korea has been a growth leader for US beef exports, with first quarter volume climbing eight per cent year-on-year to 56,173 tonnes, valued at a record $US414.2 million.
US beef has achieved major success in Korea's traditional retail and restaurant sectors but is also gaining popularity in outlets such as convenience stores and e-commerce platforms.
Beef exports to Japan ended the first quarter two per cent above last year's result in volume (74,147 tonnes) and five per cent higher in value ($US480 million).
"US beef cuts are still subject to a 38.5pc tariff in Japan while our competitors' rate is nearly one-third lower at 26.6pc," Dan Halstrom, from the USMEF, said.
The US faces tough restrictive import requirements and retaliatory duties pushing the tariff rate to 37pc in the China market where Australia is now enjoying great success.
Australia's grain-fed beef exports to China in the first quarter totaled 14,347 tonnes, up 77pc year-on-year.