Japan began accepting U.S. beef exports from cattle as old as 30 months, beginning Feb. 1.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) forecasts that U.S. beef exports to Japan in 2013, as a result of expanded access to the market, will increase roughly 45% in volume and value, reaching 225,000 mt (496 million lbs.) and $1.5 billion.

“This is an extremely positive development that successfully addresses one of the longest standing issues between our two governments,” said Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO. “The U.S. beef industry—from farmers and ranchers to exporters—will benefit from increased exports to this premium market. At the same time, the trade and consumers in Japan will see a wider variety of beef products and improved availability of U.S. beef in the retail and food service channels.”

By way of background, Japan banned U.S. beef and beef products in December 2003 following the detection of a bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)-positive animal in the U.S. In July 2006, Japan partially reopened its market to allow imports of some U.S. beef from animals aged 20 months or younger produced under a special program for Japan.

According to USMEF, one exception to the expanded agreement is that the rule will be phased in with ground beef.

Japan is currently the No. 2 market for U.S. beef exports in terms of value and No. 3 in volume (143,900 metric tons or 317.2 million lbs.) valued at $969.8 million through the first 11 months of 2012.