Shoppers line up to purchase Okinawan pork, a popular ingredient in the island prefecture's cuisine. | THE OKINAWA TIMES

With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump having reached a final agreement on Sept. 26 to conclude a trade pact to lower tariffs on American beef and pork, Okinawa Prefecture’s livestock industry has been increasingly concerned about competition intensifying when the cheap U.S. imports begin.

Some pork producers worry that consumers may prefer American beef to Okinawan pork for their overall meat consumption, taking a bite out of their sales.

On the other hand, local restaurants welcome the move, saying they will be able to offer cheap, less fatty but more richly flavored U.S. beef.

Since the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership pact and the economic partnership agreement between Japan and the European Union took effect, more foreign beef and pork has made its way into Japan.

While Okinawan products are already facing off with cheap imports, U.S. beef and pork will emerge as new competitors because the latest deal will reduce Japan’s levies to a level on a par with the revised TPP. This development is likely to deal a blow to the prefecture’s livestock farmers, many of whom are too small to generate benefits of scale.

One meat wholesaler in Naha, the capital, is worried the reduction in beef tariffs will make imports more attractive than pork.

“(Because of TPP), foreign pork has already seen a huge reduction in tariffs and cheap foreign meat is circulating in the market in large quantities,” the dealer said.

With Japan’s tariffs on beef imports to be lowered in stages under both the revised TPP and the deal with the U.S., “there will be more, even cheaper foreign beef in the market,” the wholesaler added. “More consumers may move away from pork to beef.”

Given the growing price competition and continuing high feed prices, farmers are calling for assistance in the form of government subsidies.

Seizo Inamine, the secretary-general and head of Okinawa’s pig-farming promotion association, said, “It’s true we need to make efforts ourselves to introduce high-quality sires from outside the prefecture and increase the annual herd shipment, and so on. But there are limits to what farmers alone can do to counter imported meats.”

Tsutomu Oshiro, who heads the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives for Okinawa Prefecture, issued a statement saying it will “closely monitor import trends and market prices, as well as ask the government to take all the necessary measures” to protect Okinawan farmers.

An official at the prefecture’s agriculture department said the authority will “demand the government give explanations to dispel the farmers’ concerns.”

“We will monitor movements and deal with the situation in an appropriate manner,” the official said.

Restaurants, however, view the bilateral trade agreement in a positive light.

“We are willing to use American meat if it will be cheaper than that from other countries,” said an official at a long-established steakhouse.

And Taiji Sakaguchi, president of Motobu Farm, which produces a brand of beef from that town and runs restaurants serving it, pointed out that U.S. tariffs on Japanese beef imports will also be reduced under the pact.

“We’d like to attract more inbound tourists to our restaurants and want to strengthen exports to overseas markets, too,” he said.

Sakaguchi emphasized that Okinawa doesn’t have a meat-processing plant specifically designed for exports.

“To increase Okinawan beef exports, building such a facility … would be key,” he said.

This section features topics and issues from Okinawa covered by The Okinawa Times, a major newspaper in the prefecture. The original article was published on Sept. 29.