NAHA, Okinawa Pref. – Naha Airport in Okinawa is striving to become a new logistics hub in Asia and is preparing for an expansion in trade expected if the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal takes force.
One day in late June, the airport in the prefectural capital shifted into business mode at around 1 a.m. with the arrival of an ANA Cargo Inc. cargo jet.
The cargo was transferred to delivery firm Yamato Transport Co.’s sorting station in the freight terminal and then grouped by final destination, such as Singapore and Hong Kong.
The building also has a cold warehouse where the temperature is kept below 10 degrees and facilities for quarantine and other customs procedures.
Cargo handling peaked at around 3 a.m. as planes arrived from Narita, Haneda and two other domestic airports, as well as eight airports from elsewhere in Asia, including Taipei and Hong Kong. At around 5 a.m., aircraft left for Hong Kong, Taipei, Bangkok and other destinations.
The system at Naha Airport makes it possible to deliver, for instance, fresh marine products from Hokkaido to Hong Kong by next afternoon.
“We couldn’t have even imagined (this) 20 years ago,” said Yasuhiro Kuwata, chief controller at ANA Cargo’s Okinawa office.
A regional cargo transport based at Naha Airport was set up in 2009 to cover most the major cities in Asia reachable within four hours. Called the Okinawa International Logistics Hub, the network increased the airport’s freight volume to 174,000 tons in 2015 — up 190 times from 935 tons in 2008 and the fourth-largest in Japan after Narita, Kansai International and Haneda. To address the growth in cargo traffic, Naha Airport is also building a second runway, 2,700 meters long.
Naha Airport is more than a mere relay station. The adjacent International Logistics Center stocks some 130,000 manufacturing parts for around 4,000 kinds for precision instruments that are ready for shipment around the clock. Plans are afoot for the center to be able to repair and process such parts, Kuwata said.
The airport is becoming an international logistics hub amid major changes in trade patterns, from conventional imports of materials and exports of products to cross-border divisions of labor to meet a variety of conditions — such as low labor costs, easy access to materials and parts and proximity to markets.
To address the globalization of supply chains, the TPP, signed in February to create a free trade zone covering 40 percent of the global economy, calls for expeditious logistics, such as approval to release imported goods within 48 hours of arrival for normal shipments and within six hours in the case of express shipments.
Smoother logistics may bring international trade enough benefits to overcome the adverse effects of currency fluctuations and could increase export opportunities not only for manufacturers, but also for agricultural, forestry and fishery concerns.
Mie Prefecture began a subsidy program last year in cooperation with ANA Cargo and Yamato Transport to cover up to 50 percent of the costs of transporting goods produced there to Naha Airport for export.
The program has proved a boon to local businesses that were cautious about exporting, Mie Gov. Eikei Suzuki said.
Prices of pork and beef may be lowered under the TPP, and that could make fish look relatively expensive, said Takuya Tamamoto, managing director of Owase Bussan Corp., which farms Japanese amberjack in Owase Bay in the prefecture. But “we may have more export markets,” he added.
Owase Bussan is set to begin exporting the fish to Hong Kong in earnest in August via the Okinawa International Logistics Hub.
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