We hope a larger quantity of Japanese agricultural and marine products, safe and of high quality, will be exported to foreign markets.
Our nation’s exports of farm, fishery and other food products stood at ¥750.3 billion in 2016, up 0.7 percent from a year earlier.
Although the figure marked an all-time high for a fourth consecutive year, growth was nearly flat after double-digit increases that lasted through the preceding years.
Last year’s poor catch of marine products adversely affected such exports. Hauls of scallops, whose exports account for close to 10 percent of the total, were subject to damage caused by typhoons and other factors, while bonito and tuna catches were sluggish.
The agricultural and fishery industries can be affected by natural conditions. These industries are largely family-run, and another problem is that their production and marketing structure is not strong enough.
To achieve a steady increase in exports, it is indispensable to expand the list of products that sell well and build a structure through which to secure a stable supply.
The government has established a goal of raising the value of agricultural and marine product exports to ¥1 trillion in 2019. But agriculture minister Yuji Yamamoto has acknowledged, “Given the current pace, it is quite difficult [to achieve the target].”
To bolster the exports, the government has cited such measures as conducting an advertising campaign overseas, supporting exporters and addressing matters related to distribution. These issues are all important.
Various attempts aimed at encouraging the promotion of exports have already started.
At a department store in Singapore, a farm and fishery product shop is trying to determine, with Japanese government assistance, how local consumers respond to such exports from Japan. The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) is carrying out a project to refer overseas wholesale buyers to Japanese producers.
Expand ongoing efforts
These steady efforts need to be further expanded.
Even amid a slump in our nation’s overall export drive, some exports are enjoying favorable results, such as beef, with the wagyu brand particularly popular. They also include green tea and sake, reflecting the enthusiasm for Japanese-style cuisine. In the future, too, discovering new foreign demand will be key in this area.
It is essential for the national and local governments, as well as corporations, to take up their respective roles in promoting Japanese brands through various channels.
Our nation exports little domestically produced rice, a product harvested by many agricultural households in Japan. Last year’s exports totaled ¥2.7 billion, only accounting for 0.4 percent of the total.
These rice exports are mainly high-grade rice that is comparatively expensive, and it has been pointed out that such high-quality rice is shunned by newly emerging and other countries. It seems that rice producers are better motivated to produce animal-feed rice because such production makes them eligible for generous government subsidies, rather than producing rice for export, which requires much time and effort.
The National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations, known as Zen-Noh — a body that serves as a trading house for agricultural cooperatives — will establish a section that specializes in exporting products. The planned section must share the export-related expertise of pioneering farming households, and do its utmost to support producers.
As of 2013, the value of Japan’s agricultural exports was ranked 60th among nations around the world. If our nation seeks a higher ranking, it can learn much from Italy’s strategy aimed at promoting its food culture and food products in an integrated manner. That nation has worked its way into 10th place.
There is no sign of a halt in the decrease in the number of workers in Japan’s agricultural sector and the aging of that population. Promoting exports to achieve “an agriculture that can earn” will help rejuvenate the sector.