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China may ease restrictions on Japanese food

May 10, 2018


Fukushima hopeful as China mulls easing of import curbs



The Yomiuri Shimbun


Japan and China will start talks toward China easing its import restrictions on Japanese food products imposed after the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the two nations agreed at a summit meeting in Tokyo on Wednesday.


Seven years after the 2011 accident, products from Fukushima Prefecture are still viewed with suspicion by some countries. Local producers in Fukushima Prefecture and government officials have high hopes that China will open its markets.


“I feel like I’ve been waiting for this,” said Hideharu Ota, 57, president of Daishichi Sake Brewery Co. in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture. “I want to promote Fukushima products with our sake and help improve the image of the areas affected by the earthquake,” he added.

The long-established sake brewery had planned to export its products to China, but that stalled due to the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Currently, the brewery exports sake products to 20 countries in areas such as North America and Europe.


Ota has high expectations for China’s lifting of import restrictions, saying, “China’s large market is attractive.”


In the wake of the nuclear power plant accident, 54 countries and regions imposed import restrictions against Japanese food products. Currently, 27 countries and regions still impose such restrictions, and China has halted imports of all food products from 10 prefectures, including Fukushima.


About 210 tons of agricultural products from Fukushima Prefecture were exported in fiscal 2017, more than the 153 tons in fiscal 2010 before the disaster. But the fiscal 2017 exports were mainly to Malaysia and Thailand, which lifted import restrictions, while shipments to East Asia have been sluggish because countries and regions in the area have yet to lift their restrictions.


“If the Chinese market opens up, it may have a positive impact on surrounding countries and regions,” said an official of the prefectural government’s division concerning strategies to promote local products.


Some nations still take a harsh position on products from Fukushima Prefecture.


In March, Russia lifted import restrictions on marine products from six prefectures, including Iwate, but requires the submission of a certificate related to radioactive materials for marine products from Fukushima. In May, the United Arab Emirates made the submission of a certificate unnecessary when importing other Japanese food products, but still requires a certificate for Fukushima products.


There are also cases of harm caused by misinformation.


In 2015, Thailand lifted import restrictions except for wild game meat. In March this year, exports of marine products from Fukushima started. But local consumer groups opposed a promotional event for raw fish from Fukushima that was held in Bangkok, saying the products were contaminated.


Partly because the incident was reported by media outlets, the event was canceled, followed by the cancellation of the exports themselves.


“Even though a country lifts restrictions, what comes next is harm caused by misinformation. Consumers reacted much more sensitively than expected,” said a person involved in the exports of the marine products at a trading company.


An official at the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry’s Office for Relaxing Overseas’ Import Regulations said: “There are some countries where a bad image remains, with the word Fukushima equated with the nuclear power plant. The Japanese government intends to claim the safety [of Fukushima products] and seek the understanding on it.”Speech

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