In an effort organized by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), both headquartered in Arlington, Va., 70 dairy companies, farmer-owned cooperatives and associations sent a letter to the United States trade representative and the U.S. secretary of agriculture. The August 19 letter asks the U.S. government to capitalize on the conclusion of Japan’s national elections and quickly finalize a strong trade deal with Japan to secure critical market access for the dairy industry here at home.

“Given that Japan is an established market with a growing demand for dairy products, the successful negotiation of a robust trade agreement with Japan will bring a much-needed boost to the economic health of the U.S. dairy industry and set our industry up on a path to compete effectively there moving forward,” they wrote. “Securing robust dairy export opportunities into this overseas market will be critical to restoring confidence for our dairy farmers and processors across the country.”

The continued success of the U.S. dairy industry relies on stable export opportunities to markets abroad, and Japan represents a major opportunity to expand growth, USDEC and NMPF said. However, the Japan-EU agreement and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) have allowed the European Union, New Zealand and Australia to position themselves to seize sales from the U.S. dairy industry. Swift negotiation of a trade deal with Japan that builds on the best components of the Japan-EU agreement and the CPTPP is urgently necessary for America’s dairy farmers and processors.

“Eroding dairy competitiveness in Japan is at a critical point,” said Stan Ryan, president and CEO of Darigold. The time to relevel the tariff and access playing field is right now. Today, Darigold supplies over 50% of the U.S. American-style cheese exports to Japan. Those sales will soon be lost as competitor trade deals take effect.”

Sue Taylor, vice president of dairy policy and procurement for Leprino Foods Co., noted that Japan long has been an important market for her company.

“We invested heavily in developing lactose and whey protein exports several decades ago and, more recently, mozzarella exports into this important market and believe that the market has significant further growth potential,” she said. “We risk losing these sales and growth opportunities to competitors who recently finalized preferential trade agreements unless the U.S. negotiates a strong agreement. We are very supportive of the administration’s efforts to secure an agreement that allows us to retain and grow this important market.”

The United States exported $270 million in dairy products to Japan in 2018, with room for further growth, NMPF and USDEC said. However, without a strong U.S.-Japan trade agreement, half of U.S. dairy sales to Japan will be wrested by competitors, mounting to a toll of $5.4 billion in lost export sales when Japan’s deals with the EU and CPTPP are fully phased in.