Beijing/Hong Kong/Singapore – Six economies are still halting food and agricultural imports from certain areas of Japan affected by the nuclear disaster that followed the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Despite Japanese authorities having sought to assure people over the safety of the products with scientific evidence, they have yet to wipe out their concerns, which arose after the 2011 triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
According to the agriculture ministry, 54 economies introduced import restrictions on Japanese goods due to the nuclear disaster.
While most of those have now lifted or eased their measures, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, South Korea and the United States still reject imports from some areas, including Fukushima Prefecture, home of the stricken nuclear plant.
All six are major export destinations for Japanese agricultural products, and the restrictions are a heavy burden for the industry.
“We’ll continue to work patiently for the removal of restrictions, utilizing every opportunity,” agriculture minister Kotaro Nogami has said.
China bans the import of food products from 10 prefectures in northeastern and central Japan, including Fukushima and its neighbors Miyagi and Niigata.
Niigata rice saw its ban lifted a month after then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited China in October 2018. But China’s moves to relax its restrictions have since stalled.
“There are great possibilities” for exports to China, a senior agriculture ministry official said.
Hopes were high for a fresh round of deregulation to coincide with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s planned visit to Japan last spring, but the momentum died down after the novel coronavirus pandemic caused the visit to be postponed.
The situation remains unchanged even in Hong Kong, where Japanese food products are popular.
By last year, Hong Kong had been the largest export destination by value of Japan’s agricultural, forestry, fisheries and food goods for 16 straight years. But the region still has import bans in place for fruit and vegetables from Fukushima.
“There have been moves to avoid buying foods” from the Tohoku region, said Tomohiro Takashima, head of the Japan External Trade Organization’s Hong Kong office. “We’ve repeated public relations campaigns to show restaurants and retailers the progress in decontamination work and other safety measures.”
Rice and processed foods, not covered by the import ban, remain popular. Peach juice from Fukushima often sells out as soon as it appears on store shelves, and Fukushima sake is also extremely popular among purchasing officials.
But concerns persist in Hong Kong over the safety of goods from the prefecture. When the Ten no Tsubu brand of rice from Fukushima Prefecture was put on sale at a Hong Kong department store, some customers decided against buying it due to concerns about its origin.
A 23-year-old female company worker said she would not buy goods from Fukushima even if restrictions were lifted, because she was concerned about radioactive contamination.
Meanwhile, consumers in economies that have lifted or eased their restrictions have slowly started to buy products from Japan.
In January last year, Singapore conditionally lifted its ban on the import of food products from Fukushima Prefecture. Since then, Japanese supermarkets in the city-state have stocked sake and dried persimmons, a Fukushima delicacy, from the prefecture.
One factor helping the revival in demand is the display of origin certificates and testing reports showing that the goods meet radiation safety standards.
If the government has approved it, there should be no problem, a woman in her 70s said, adding she was not worried because she did not eat large amounts every day.
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