Since 2003, Japan has severely restricted U.S. beef imports by only allowing beef to be from cows younger than 20 months of age. The goal of the restriction was to reduce the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease.

This Friday, Feb. 1, marks a gigantic leap forward for the U.S. cattle industry as Japan is set to loosen restrictions. The new restrictions will allow beef from cows up to 30 months of age.

"What that means is that about 95% of the cattle that are slaughtered in the United States will now l qualify for export, explains Montana Farmers Union spokesman Chris Christiaens. "Under the 20 month rule, exports were restricted to about 20% of U.S Cattle.  Since 2003 it's estimated that the U.S. beef industry has lost some 10 billion dollars in export sales so this is really a great move and its good for U.S. beef and U.S. beef exports.

Chris Christiaens:

According to the National Cattleman's Beef Association, Japan was the second largest export market for U.S. through November 2012,  purchasing 130,000 metric tons or 849 million dollars worth of U.S. beef.

Christiaens says that part of the new regulations will involve BSE inspections, which could lead to a relaxing of even the 30 month rule.

The broader market means that Montana beef can fetch a higher price. Combined with the effects of the recent drought, Japan's new trade rules are expected to cause an increase in international and domestic beef prices.