Fukuoka starts shipping fruits of labor

Kyodo

Fukuoka Prefecture is trying to gain a business foothold in fast-growing East Asian markets and has begun exporting locally grown fruit to Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Local agricultural union officials said they launched the export drive three years ago amid fears that domestic consumption of fruit would decrease as Japanese society ages.

Although the quantity of exports is still small, the union wants to advance into Shanghai and other major cities in China by marketing the products’ high quality, they said.

The union exported 14 tons of persimmons to Hong Kong and 300 kg to Taiwan in fiscal 2003.

The prefecture is Japan’s largest producer of sweet persimmons. Union officials say the sweet varieties are better suited for export than the bitter ones as they last longer.

The “fuyu,” a sweet persimmon, is especially popular among consumers in Hong Kong and Taiwan as a high-quality gift; the Chinese characters used to represent fuyu mean “wealthy.”

Hiroshi Nakano, auditor of the fruit section at the union, said, “Exports are possible because of their high quality.” The union expects that regulations in mainland China will be eased as the nation’s economy grows.

“We would like to build up relations with dealers in Taiwan and Hong Kong now in order to advance into Shanghai and other cities in the future.”

“Amaou” strawberries developed in the prefecture in 2002 and shipped to Hong Kong on a trial basis last year are selling well there.

Some union members are cautious about exports and want to make products popular in Japan first.

But Yasuhiro Konishi, a counselor in the production and distribution section of the Fukuoka Prefectural Government, said: “Publicity effects are tremendous. The status of the Amaou has increased.”

He added that this popularity in Hong Kong could lead to better sales in Japan.

The cargo ferry Shanghai Superexpress, linking Hakata port with Shanghai, started operating in November on a twice-weekly basis, giving Fukuoka an export edge.

Nobuhiro Suzuki, an assistant professor at the graduate school of Kyushu University who is versed in trade liberalization of agricultural, forestry and fishery products, said many rich Chinese regard Japanese products as safe.

“The conclusion of free-trade agreements with Asian countries will likely lead to expanded demand for Japanese foods,” he said.