Japan, our staunch ally and major trade partner in Asia, remains a major destination for U.S. corn, soybean, wheat, cattle and hogs. It's easy to see that the largest growth potential continues to be for U.S. hog and beef producers to increase export sales.

With a stable population and high per capita income, most of the growth will be in improving diets and increasing per capita meat consumption.

The demographics in Japan show certain strengths as well as the challenges they have in continuing to grow their economy. The population is growing by less than .2% each year. The birth rate is about 9.96/1,000 and the death rate is 8.15/1,000. The population of about 125 million is aging.

  • The age structure shows those ages 0-14 at 15% of the population.

  • The age group 15-64 at 68%.

  • 17% of the population is 65 and older.

The life expectancy is 80.7 years, so the percentage of the population that is retirement age, 65 or older, continues to grow, which will be an ongoing economic and social challenge in Japan.

Economic growth has slowed in Japan from the booming economy of the 1990s, but solid, sustainable economic growth has begun after a decade of restructuring. Even with a slower growth rate the last several years, Japan is the third largest economy in the world behind the U.S. and China.

The economy is known for great cooperation between the government and industries, mastery of high technology and the small amount they spend on defense — less than 1% of their GDP.

The hard working, efficient people of Japan have become excellent at manufacturing all consumer products in a nation that is heavily dependent on imported raw materials.

Japan's agriculture is highly subsidized and is self sufficient in rice, but needs to import about 50% of its grain requirements. Livestock numbers are steady, and as consumers want more meat, imports have increased dramatically.

By the numbers:

  • GDP purchasing parity — $2.95 trillion

  • GDP real growth rate — 0.5%

  • GDP per capita income — $23,400

  • GDP by sector — agriculture 2%, industry 35% and services 63%

The Future Of Exports To Japan

I have looked at Japanese imports of corn, soybeans, cattle and hogs from 30 years ago, 10 years ago and the last five years. As you can see, the imports of U.S. corn and soybeans have been fairly constant. The big jump has been in pork and beef consumption.

These figures don't break out the imports from the U.S., but until the mad cow scare, the U.S. was the major supplier of beef to Japan.

Looking ahead, getting the export ban lifted and beef moving to Japan is important for U.S. cattle, corn and soybean farmers.

As the National Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association have indicated in their recent promotions, one of the keys to expanding usage for corn and soybean farmers is to increase U.S. hog, broiler and cattle profitability in the U.S. While Japan has limited ability to expand beef and pork production, the U.S. will be able to meet increased demand.

Exports To Japan
Year Corn (MMT) Soybeans(MMT) Beef(MT) Pork(MT)
1984 11,400 5,700 4,700 208,000
1994 16,030 5,657 4,900 847,000
1999 14,900 5,701 4,600 959,000
2000 14,000 5,640 4,600 1,016,000
2001 14,800 5,880 4,500 1,404,000
2002 14,300 6,027 4,500 1,414,000
2003 14,900 5,625 4,500 810,000
2004 14,800 5,600 4,500 604,000
MMT=Million Metric Tons MT=Metric Tons