National

Hong Kong mulls partial relaxation of post-Fukushima food import ban

Kyodo

The Hong Kong government has proposed a relaxation of its ban on food imports from four of the five Japanese prefectures on which it was imposed in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, according to a legislative paper released Tuesday.

Food items including vegetables, fruits, milk, milk beverages and milk formula from the five prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Chiba and Gunma have faced an import ban since March 2011.

The Food and Health Bureau will discuss a proposal at the Legislative Council Panel on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene next week that would relax the ban for all the prefectures except Fukushima.

Under the proposal, items with both a certificate attesting that the radiation levels do not exceed guideline levels and an exporter certificate will be allowed.

“Fukushima is not a food safety issue but a psychological concern,” said catering industry sector lawmaker Tommy Cheung. “Personally, I have no worries over the safety of food from these prefectures, even Fukushima, but some of the importers have concerns (over consumer sentiment).”

“I support and agree with the proposal. Let’s take it one step at a time,” Cheung added.

The relaxation will come into effect at a later date.

Three samples of vegetables imported from Chiba Prefecture on March 23, 2011, showed radiation levels exceeding the guideline, prompting the government to impose the ban.

Since 2016, no samples were found to have any radiation contamination, the government paper says.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Mitsuhiro Miyakoshi, a special adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, both pushed for a lifting of the ban during separate visits to Hong Kong in recent months.

Hong Kong is the largest export destination for Japanese foodstuffs. Hong Kong Trade Development Council figures show that Japan’s exports of food and live animals to Hong Kong amounted to $996 million for the first 11 months of last year, accounting for over 23 percent of Japan’s exports in that category.

Around the world, only China and Taiwan currently maintain a comprehensive ban on food imports from Japan’s radiation-contaminated areas.

China has proposed to Japan the setting up of a working group to discuss the issue. As Abe is scheduled to visit Beijing in the fall, speculation is rife that relaxing the food ban will be on the agenda.

Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to Japan, Frank Hsieh, has recently said that if China eases its restrictions before Taiwan does, Taiwan will be “embarrassed” because it will be the only country or region keeping a comprehensive ban on the import of food products from Japan.