AUSTRALIAN cattle producers are pinning their hopes on finally signing a new free-trade agreement with Japan.
It follows the appointment by new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of the more liberal Toshimitsu Motegi and Yoshimasa Hayashi to head the nation's trade and agriculture portfolios respectively.
Both are graduates of Harvard University in the US and are believed to be supporters of trade liberalisation.
Meat and Livestock Australia's Japan regional manager Melanie Brock said both men were recognised as "expert policy makers" and were key appointments.
"It is important for Australia, as it is for other countries, that a forward-looking, foreign-educated minister is appointed to the portfolio of agriculture, given the drastic need for structural reforms," she said.
"The main focus of the Abe Cabinet is to implement policy that will reinvigorate the Japanese economy and as part of that, the Government will need to carefully consider its approach and support for free trade.
"We will continue to work hard and advocate the importance of a free-trade agreement between Australia and Japan by highlighting the areas of potential collaboration.
"Raising awareness and understanding where our (farming) sectors can work together continues to be an important step towards reaching our goal of free trade."
Ms Brock said action shouldn't be expected imminently, especially as much of Japan now takes a week off to celebrate Japanese New Year. But she said she was looking forward to getting to know and work with the new ministers.
"The best deal for Australia is one that provides greater access for our product, a deal that is based on free trade and tariff elimination," she said.
Meanwhile, in positive news for beef producers Japan increased its consumption during October.
MLA figures show beef consumption was up 4 per cent year on year at almost 80,000 tonnes. This was the biggest monthly consumption level since December last year. Imported beef made up more than half of the beef consumed, at 50,613 tonnes.
Increases in hamburger sales, as well as good demand for "affordable steaks and hamburgs (large meat balls)" was given as the reason.