This week Bord Bia announced a breakthrough in the Japanese market for Irish beef with Irish steaks being on offer to Japanese consumers for the first time through a major restaurant chain in Japan.

For the month of December, Irish steaks will be on sale in the Negishi restaurant chain which specialises in grilled beef tongue – a favourite with Japanese’s consumers.

It has 40 outlets in the Tokyo area of Japan, serving 100,000 customers per week, though the Irish steak promotion will be confined to 10 of the outlets.

Japan is the third-largest beef importer in the world after the China and the US, taking 832,000t carcase weight equivalent in 2020 according to USDA data. This is supplied primarily by Australia and the US who, between them, supply 86% of Japanese beef imports.

Ireland has a tiny but increasing share of the market, almost doubling from 2,323t in 2019 to 4,120t in 2020, making Ireland in fact Japan’s seventh-largest supplier of beef imports according to Bord Bia.

Level playing field

Irish and EU beef exports to Japan received a boost with the EU Japan trade agreement which is progressively reducing very high import tariffs on meat and dairy products.

In the case of beef the tariff has fallen from 38.5% in 2018 to 25% this year and will continue falling to 9% by 2033 with small annual reductions, putting Irish exports with the same tariffs as US and Australian competitors.

The market for imported beef in Japan is split between hospitality/foodservice and retail.

In hospitality, Japanese heavily marbled Wagyu beef is the luxury product preferred for special occasions while the leaner US/Australian product is more associated with everyday use.

Australia’s main beef export to Japan is manufacturing beef for burgers which makes up just under half of its total beef exports. Half of US beef export to Japan are forequarter beef brisket cuts and almost a quarter are round cuts used for beef roasts.

Both the US and Australia are grain-fed beef exporters while Ireland like New Zealand present a grass-fed offering.


This Irish steak promotion in a Tokyo restaurant chain will give an indication on whether Irish beef can establish a significant presence in the Japanese market.

The promotion this month is across 10 outlets, but we can be certain if it is a success, it will become a permanent feature not just on the menu of this restaurant chain but across several others as well.

It will also give a clear indication on the extent of the potential for Irish grass-fed beef to compete with the Australian and US grain-fed alternative in this high value market where just 35% of all beef consumed is produced in Japan.

Irish beef is also competitively priced at present when compared with the US and Australia and being on the same tariff, we are in a position to compete if consumers embrace and appreciate the value of the product.

The coming weeks and months will tell us if they do and Irish beef producers and exporters will be keeping their fingers crossed that they do.

Read more

US beef exports pass $1bn in August

How is global trade likely to develop through the 2020s?