Business

Asian appetites drive Japan's 2018 farm and fisheries exports up 12%, setting record for sixth year in row

Kyodo

Agriculture, forestry and fisheries exports in 2018 grew 12.4 percent from a year earlier to hit a record high for the sixth straight year, buoyed by strong demand from other Asian nations, the farm ministry said Friday.

The preliminary figure of ¥906.8 billion ($8.3 billion) indicates Tokyo’s ¥1 trillion target for farm exports in 2019 is within reach, as shipments are likely to expand further on the popularity of washoku (Japanese food) overseas and the entry into force of major free trade agreements involving Japan.

“To achieve the ¥1 trillion goal, we need an annual growth of more than 10 percent. By supporting producers of export items, we’ll strive to meet the target,” farm minister Takamori Yoshikawa told a news conference Friday.

By country and region, Hong Kong remained the largest buyer of Japanese farm produce at ¥211.5 billion. China rose one place to second with ¥133.8 billion, surpassing the ¥117.7 billion of the United States, which came in third.

Exports of agricultural products, which include processed foods, were up 14.0 percent from a year before to ¥566.1 billion, and exports of fisheries products rose 10.3 percent to ¥303.1 billion. Forestry items, meanwhile, grew 6.0 percent to ¥37.6 billion.

Mackerel surged 22.0 percent to ¥26.6 billion, helped by robust demand from African countries such as Nigeria and Egypt, while beef increased 29.1 percent to ¥24.7 billion and sake climbed 19.0 percent to ¥22.2 billion.

Some fruits made rapid advances, as apples, supported by high yields, jumped 27.6 percent to ¥13.9 billion, and strawberries soared 40.7 percent to ¥2.5 billion.

Eggs saw a sharp rise of 49.4 percent to ¥1.5 billion, as the traditional Japanese food culture of eating raw eggs spread to other countries. But shipments of Chinese yams and garden plants were down.

The entry into force of the 11-member Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement in late December and a Japan-European Union free trade pact on Feb. 1 is expected to help boost Japan’s farm exports because they have lowered tariffs on wagyu beef, sake and green tea.

Some markets, including China and Hong Kong, however, continue to restrict food imports from Fukushima Prefecture and surrounding areas in light of the March 2011 triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant. The government plans to keep calling for an easing of such bans.

Also on Friday, the government released data of the broadest measure of trade, called the current account, for December. The Finance Ministry said Japan posted a current account surplus of ¥452.8 billion for the month, marking the 54th straight month of black ink.

Among key components, Japan had a goods trade surplus of ¥216.2 billion and a services trade deficit of ¥114.2 billion, according to a preliminary report released by the ministry.

Primary income, which reflects returns on overseas investments, registered a surplus of ¥404.9 billion.

For 2018, Japan logged a current account surplus of ¥19.09 trillion.