Business

Japan's pork, wine and cheese imports from Europe surging under free trade agreement

Kyodo

Japan’s imports of pork, wine and cheese from the European Union all marked double-digit growth in February from a year ago following the entry into force of a free trade deal, according to government data.

Pork imports saw the largest year-on-year rise of 54 percent to about 36,000 tons, followed by 42 percent for wine and 30 percent for cheese, according to Finance Ministry data released Thursday.

The free trade agreement between Japan and the European Union came into force on Feb. 1, with an eye toward eliminating tariffs on most reciprocal imports. The pact covers about a third of the world economy and over 600 million people at a time of increasing trade friction between China and the United States.

Under the pact, for instance, the 15 percent tariff Japan had imposed on wines from the European Union was immediately scrapped. Wine imports, which ranked second in terms of year-on-year growth in the trade data, totaled 14.69 million liters, lifted by increases in Spanish and Italian wines.

French and Italian products contributed to a rise in overall cheese imports to around 8,000 tons, with reduced duties applied.

The gains came after sharp drops in January, suggesting many Japanese importers waited until the tariff-reducing pact took effect. Industry observers say more time and data will be needed to identify a clear trend.

In January, pork imports from the 28-member bloc fell 50 percent, cheese 6 percent, and wine 41 percent.

Japanese farmers are concerned the domestic market will be flooded by cheaper European products, which are otherwise welcomed by consumers.

For Japanese automakers, the pact could help lift their Europe-bound exports as the bloc will scrap its 10 percent tariff on Japanese automobiles in the eighth year.

Auto shipments to the bloc, excluding used cars, grew 13 percent in February.

Japan’s total imports from the EU were up 0.5 percent to ¥742.24 billion ($6.7 billion), while exports to the bloc rose 2.5 percent to ¥800.54 billion, the data showed.

Japan and the EU signed the free trade agreement last July hoping it would serve as a counter to the rise of protectionism.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who views his country’s hefty trade deficits with major exporters as problematic, is pursuing bilateral trade talks separately with Japan and the EU.