Philip Seng, former president and CEO of the U.S. Meat Export Federation, has been presented Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun, which is awarded to people who have made distinguished achievements in international relations and other fields.
"My strategy was to approach the market respectfully, with the perspectives of the Japanese trade and consumers paramount," said Seng, who speaks fluent Japanese and lived and worked in the country early in his career. "In this way, we were able to jointly satisfy customer demands and develop everlasting trade relationships that benefitted both the U.S. and Japan."
The Order of the Rising Sun was first established in 1875 and is awarded to both Japanese citizens as well as foreigners.
Seng led USMEF, which represents meat exporters, as president and CEO for nearly two decades – from 1990 to 2018. He started with USMEF as Asia director in 1982 and was promoted to vice president of international programs in 1988.
Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs– where Seng worked for a brief time before joining USMEF - recommended Seng for the award “for his contributions to "strengthening Japan-U.S. economic relations, particularly in the meat field, and promoting mutual understanding between Japan and the United States," says USMEF.
Japan remains a top foreign market for U.S. beef and pork, bolstered by the recent trade pact - the U.S.-Japan trade agreement, under which Japan agreed to cut its tariffs. U.S. pork exports have remained relatively stable over the past decade, but U.S. beef shipments have been steadily rising.
U.S. beef shipments to Japan faltered a little in 2019 and this year, but trade has been robust and growing over the past decade, according to USDA data. The U.S. shipped about $546 million worth of beef to Japan in 2010. By 2018, that total has risen to about $1.8 billion.
"On behalf of USMEF, I offer Phil a wholehearted congratulations on this honor," says current USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. "Phil deserves credit for advancing U.S. red meat interests around the world, and his impact was especially evident in Japan, where he worked tirelessly to strengthen relations between the U.S. and Japan."
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Seng led USMEF during some of the darkest days of beef trade with Japan. The country – which is now the highest value and volume market for U.S. beef - completely banned U.S. beef in 2003 in reaction to the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy that was discovered in a dairy cow in the U.S. It took two years before Japan began accepting some cuts of beef under restrictive terms. Japan gradually loosened those restrictions and it wasn’t until May of 2017 that the country finally lifted the requirement that U.S. beef come from cattle that were less than 30 months old at the time of slaughter.
The repercussions of BSE were major impediments for Seng and the USMEF, he told Agri-Pulse, but he had been dealing with challenges in Japan for more than 20 years by then.
When Seng first joined USMEF, Japanese import restrictions and heavy domestic regulation assured that the country was importing very little U.S. beef. Only frozen U.S. products could enter and restrictions were tight on where and how it could be sold.
“In the early 80s Japan’s government controlled where the (U.S.) product was sold, who had the quota and they even set the time of day for when the product could be sold on the market,” he said.
Seng says he spent much of the 1980s helping to convince Japan to open its borders to chilled U.S. beef and then work began in the 1990s on improving the country’s regulatory controls on how and where U.S. beef could be sold on the domestic market.
"My strategy was to approach the market respectfully, with the perspectives of the Japanese trade and consumers paramount," said Seng, who is now a professor at Colorado State University. “In this way, we were able to jointly satisfy customer demands and develop everlasting trade relationships that benefitted both the U.S. and Japan."