A new agreement signed in May between the United States and Japan has lifted restrictions on beef imports, potentially leading to a $200 million annual increase in US exports of the product. Montana in particular—a state with nearly 3 cows per person living there—stands to benefit. The lifting of the restrictions, originally put in place due to concerns over mad cow disease, may help Montana cattle ranchers expand their businesses and grow Montana’s agriculture sector.
This lifting of restrictions was coupled with a decrease in tariffs and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer recently announced that he hoped to soon convince Japan to make tariff reductions on wheat imports as well. This would further help Montana’s economy as it gains easier access to a foreign market. In 2017 Montana exported over $106 million worth of goods to Japan, the majority of which were agricultural products.
Aside from the millions of dollars in exports and over 1000 jobs supported by exports to Japan, Montana also has cultural ties with the country. The state recently marked the 35th anniversary with its Japanese sister prefecture, Kumamoto, with a celebration that included many Japanese visitors and a performance by the Missoula children’s theater group. The town of Livingston is also a sister city with Naganohara, Japan.
Mike Mansfield, a former US senator from Montana and later the longest-serving US ambassador to Japan, worked hard to forge bonds between Japan and his home state. It was due to his efforts that the sister-state relationship was established. During his time as ambassador, Mansfield referred to the US-Japan relationship as the most important bilateral relationship in the world.
After he retired, the Mike Mansfield Fellowship Program for federal employees was established by legislation in the US Congress in his honor. This program gives federal employees the chance to travel to Japan to learn the language and get professional training at a position in the Japanese government. The program has just announced its 24th group of Mansfield fellows. Montanans from politicians like Mansfield to regular farmers and children’s theater group members have kept the ties between Japan and Montana strong.
Mark Witzke is a participant in the East-West Center in Washington’s Young Professionals Program. He is also a graduate student studying international politics at UC San Diego's School of Global Policy and the editor in chief of the school's China Focus blog.