Russia eases Fukushima-related seafood ban; Taiwan mulls loosening embargo

Kyodo

Russia’s farm ministry said it has partially lifted a ban on seafood imports from Japan imposed in the wake of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear crisis.

A total of 23 fish processing companies in Aomori Prefecture will now be allowed to ship their products to Russia, but the trade embargo will remain for companies in seven other prefectures, the ministry said Tuesday.

Russia made the decision based on preliminary results of a study carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency in February. The fact that Aomori Prefecture is relatively far from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant played a role in the decision.

According to the Japanese Fisheries Agency, the seven prefectures still subject to Russia’s trade restriction measures are Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Chiba and Niigata prefectures.

Prior to the nuclear crisis, about 520 fish processing companies in Japan were allowed to export their products to Russia. Since April 2011, more than 200 companies in eight prefectures, including Aomori, have been banned.

Meanwhile, it was learned Wednesday that Taiwan will allow imports of certain food products from four prefectures that have been subject to a food embargo since the disaster.

“We agreed in principle to relax restrictions on food produce from four Japanese prefectures except Fukushima,” said a diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Following the March 2011 disaster, Taiwan banned food imports from Fukushima and nearby Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures and has been conducting random radiation checks on nine categories of imported foods.

Minister of Health and Welfare Chiang Been-huang said in March that the ministry was studying the possibility of lifting the ban at the request of the Japanese government.

The diplomatic source said the issue has been on the agenda of bilateral talks and both sides continue to remain in close contact after negotiators failed to reach a concrete agreement when they met in June.

Taiwanese newspaper the United Daily News reported on Wednesday that Taiwan and Japan have agreed to end the embargo as early as next week. It said the blockade on products from Fukushima Prefecture would remain.

However, Ministry of Health and Welfare Vice Minister Hsu Ming-neng on Wednesday dismissed the speculation that the ban will be lifted next week, saying “everything is still under assessment.”

Legislators from the ruling Nationalist Party cautioned that the administration must not yield to Japanese pressure at the expense of food safety.

The diplomatic source said the issue was not about food safety.

“The fact is that all the food products from the banned prefectures pass the safety examinations and they are consumed by the Japanese public,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense to continue the ban.”

Apart from the import ban, Taiwan implemented stricter measures this year requiring all food products from Japan to carry prefecture-specific labels of origin following a series of violations of the ban. Those measures are expected to remain in force for now.