SUWON, SOUTH KOREA – The environment ministers of Japan, China and South Korea have agreed to cooperate in addressing the arrival of fire ants in Japan.
Wrapping up a two-day meeting Friday in Suwon, south of Seoul, the ministers adopted a joint statement saying they will share information on the “current status of invasive alien species.” as well as countermeasures.
The trilateral meeting came as the Japanese government steps up efforts to curb the spread of the stinging ants, which are native to South America but entering the country via shipping containers primarily from China.
Though fire ants are a common nuisance in North America and China, the Japanese media and government are playing up their painful stings as a deadly threat.
In some people, the stings can trigger anaphylaxis, which in rare cases can lead to death.
After the talks, Japanese Environment Minister Masaharu Nakagawa told a news conference that he hoped the cooperation would help combat the invasive species. He stressed the importance of detecting and removing invasive species at ports quickly, calling this a challenge faced by many countries.
On Thursday, Nakagawa separately held talks with his Chinese counterpart Li Ganjie. The two agreed to weigh areas of cooperation related to fire ants. He also met with his South Korean counterpart Kim Eun-kyung, coming away with an agreement to share information on the issue.
The Environment Ministry said a trilateral working-level meeting is expected to take place in Shizuoka.
Japan’s first fire ants were found when a container was unloaded in May in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, after being shipped from Guangzhou, China via Kobe port. Fire ants have since been found at other major ports and some inland areas.
On other issues, the ministers agreed to launch joint environmental research related to United Nations sustainable development goals aimed at eradicating poverty and inequality, according to the joint statement.
The statement also said the ministers reviewed progress related to a 2015-2019 action plan listing nine areas of cooperation, including the toxic air pollutant PM2.5.
According to the statement, the ministers pledged to step up information-sharing on air pollution measures. They will also work to speed up efforts to deal with maritime waste and hold a seminar on waste management policy in Japan this year.
The countries have held annual environmental talks since 1999. China is scheduled to host the next meeting in 2018.