DESPITE several weeks of resistance from wholesalers beef export prices to Japan have finally risen due to the rapidly approaching peak demand period for beef.
Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) market analysis and support manager for Japan Linda Wilson said exports of Australian meat to Japan were heading into uncertain times due to the impending return of the US.
Ms Wilson said Japanese wholesalers were still prepared to pay high prices for beef, with prices received for Australian beef during 2005 similar to those of 2004.
She said that in the calendar year to date 10,565t of beef had been exported to Japan from WA, proving it was by far the state's largest market.
"Japan is very important to WA," Ms Wilson said
"Forty per cent of pen space in WA feedlots is for cattle destined for the Japanese market."
Ms Wilson said the next biggest market was the US, receiving 7431t of Australian beef, followed by Taiwan (6511t) and Korea (4634t).
MLA figures show WA has exported 76,081t of beef in 2005.
As of September 30, Australia's cattle on feed equalled 792,000 head.
This figure was down 9.9pc from the previous quarter's record, mainly due to the short supply and high prices for feeder cattle.
Cattle on feed destined for the domestic market totaled 246,000 head, which was 21.7pc lower than the previous quarter.
The number of cattle destined for Japan increased 1pc over the previous quarter to 498,000 head, while cattle destined to South Korea dropped 66.9pc.
Ms Wilson said the latest feedlot survey results had shown the number of cattle on feed destined for Japan remained fairly high in WA.
She said numbers on feed for the domestic market were down in WA due to processor EG Green and Sons remaining under administration.
Ms Wilson said there also had been a big fall in numbers on feed destined for Korea due to the uncertainty surrounding the impending return of the US to this market.
MLA had predicted 50,000t of US beef would enter the Japanese market in 2006, she said.
She said supply would be less than 2003 from both the US and Canada, however Canada was expected to be focusing more heavily on Japanese exports than in the past.
Both Japan and Korea maintain the position they could not reopen their markets unless the safety of beef for consumption is proven.
The US has been pressuring Korea and Japan to reopen their markets, as they are major importers for US beef.
In 2003, Korea imported 293,653t of beef, of which 68pc came from the US.
Japan's new Agriculture Minister, Shoichi Nakagawa, said he was reluctant to ease safety measures against mad cow disease.
Mr Nakagawa acknowledged safety measures against mad cow disease in Japan were stricter than internationally accepted standards.
He said it would be difficult to ease food safety regulations if Japanese consumers wanted strict rules and if Japanese scientists supported them.
Mr Nakagawa predicted cattle slaughter in Japan would fall 1pc in 2006, to total 1.082 million head.
Beef imports from the US in 2006 are forecast to reach 30,000-35,000t.
This forecast is lower than that of MLA, which forecasts about 50,000-60,000t of US beef would be imported by Japan in 2006, while the US expects 85,000t of US beef to be imported by Japan during 2006.
The US intends to raise the cattle age limit to 30 months in future talks with Japan to increase exports.