• Kyodo

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Agriculture, fishery and forestry exports in 2019 fell short of the government’s ¥1 trillion ($9.1 billion) goal, the farm ministry said Friday, underscoring the challenges facing the nation in its quest to build a larger presence in overseas markets.

Preliminary data showed such exports rose 0.6 percent from the previous year to ¥912.1 billion, a record high for the seventh straight year, though the pace of growth slowed from 12.4 percent in 2018 due to poor scallop and mackerel catches, as well as a South Korean boycott of Japanese products amid a diplomatic dispute.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has touted a boost in agricultural exports as a pillar of his economic growth strategy, looking to capitalize on the rising popularity of Japanese cuisine abroad.

Farm minister Taku Eto told a news conference he took the failure to hit the ¥1 trillion target “seriously,” and that Japan aims to meet the goal in 2020.

Agricultural exports in 2019 rose 3.8 percent to ¥587.7 billion, while those of fishery products fell 5.2 percent to ¥287.3 billion. Forestry items slipped 1.4 percent to ¥37.1 billion. By item, scallops, a popular ingredient in Chinese cuisine, dropped 6.3 percent to ¥44.6 billion, while mackerel plummeted 22.8 percent to ¥20.6 billion. Meanwhile, beef climbed 20.0 percent to ¥29.6 billion, while sake saw a 5.3 percent rise to ¥23.4 billion and apples a 3.7 percent increase to ¥14.4 billion.

Hong Kong was the largest buyer of Japanese agricultural exports despite a 3.7 percent fall amid the prolonged standoff between pro-democracy protesters and authorities in the territory. Shipments to South Korea plunged 21.0 percent due to a boycott of Japanese products amid the bilateral dispute over trade policy and compensation for wartime labor. But farm exports to China soared 14.9 percent, while those to the United States logged a 5.2 percent increase.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries earmarked ¥1.2 billion in its budget for the fiscal year beginning in April to create a new organization to promote farm exports, as well as ¥3 billion to boost production of wagyu beef.

The measures are designed to help domestic farmers cope with the intensified competition that came with Japan’s signing of a trade deal with the United States that entered into force on Jan. 1, as well as a revised 11-member Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact and a trade accord with the European Union.

Reflecting the lowering of tariffs on American meat under the trade deal, the volume of beef imports from the United States in January jumped 22.1 percent from a year earlier to 21,428 tons, according to Finance Ministry data released Friday.

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