Until a tariffication policy on beef imports was implemented on April 1, 1991, the Japanese government played a direct role in managing beef imports into that country through it's quasi-independent subsidiary, the livestock Industry Promotion Corporation. Liberalization substantially reduced the role of the Japanese government in regulating beef imports by permitting Japanese and American firms to trade with one another directly. Yet, in spite of this change, many academics and journalists continue to describe the trade of beef that flows from the United States and other countries into Japan as though it takes place between countries, rather than between the organizations that organize the production, trading and marketing of beef.
Building upon a review of the theoretical discussions about the relationship between firms and markets, as well as globalization and the transformation in the global economy from fordism to postfordism, this study analyses the establishment of business ties between Japanese and non-Japanese firms, including a case study of how American producers are attempting to produce Japanese-style Wagyu beef in order to gain a foothold in the Japanese market. These data demonstrate the need to employ an analytical approach in the social sciences for examining international trade that conceptualizes trade as taking place between firms and not in unregulated markets across international boundaries. The paper concludes with a discussion about the relationship between markets and inter-firm networks in the global economy.