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Gov’t puts stronger pressure on China to resume importing Japanese agricultural products

The Japanese government will step up its efforts to call on China and other countries to abolish their import restrictions imposed on Japanese agricultural and food products after the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The Japanese and Chinese governments will start discussions toward the resumption of imports ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s scheduled visit to China in October. Tokyo has already begun taking measures by utilizing social networking services in a bid to dispel groundless rumors about radioactive contamination of Japanese food products.


China has banned imports of agricultural and food products from Fukushima and nine other Japanese prefectures since the 2011 nuclear accident. It also requires vegetable and fruit exporters of other prefectures to submit a certificate issued by the Japanese government attesting that the products’ radiation levels are below guidelines. But the two governments have been failing to reach an agreement on the content of inspection, forcing China to practically suspend imports of agricultural and food products from Japan.


Meanwhile, Hong Kong had banned imports from the prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, and Chiba. But in July, it lifted the ban on vegetables and fruits imported from the four prefectures except for Fukushima, saying, “It has been scientifically proven that the risk is extremely low.” Producers of pears and frozen strawberries in Tochigi and Chiba prefectures have resumed exports. An official of the economy division at the Tochigi prefectural government says, “We hope to resume exporting to China as well.”


Amid that situation, Tokyo and Beijing agreed during a summit in May to establish a “joint expert group” to deal with the import restrictions imposed on Japanese food products after the nuclear disaster. A diplomatic source says the two sides are preparing to hold a first meeting ahead of Abe’s visit to China scheduled this autumn. China is the third largest export destination for Japanese agricultural and food products in 2017 with the export value of 100.7 billion yen, following Hong Kong and the U.S., to which Japan exported worth 187.7 billion yen and 111.5 billion yen, respectively. A Japanese government source says, “China’s lifting of the ban will have a significant impact in terms of trade volume and in the political aspect.” The Japanese government will urge China to swiftly resume imports, against the backdrop of Hong Kong’s lifting of the import ban.


But Taiwan and South Korea still continue to ban imports from Japan. An official of Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries says, “Both countries are Japan’s neighbors, so their consumers are highly interested.” In Taiwan, the opposition Chinese Nationalist Party, which calls for the continuation of the import restrictions, began a signature-collecting drive to call for a referendum on whether people are for or against the restrictions. Mikio Numata, chief representative of the Taipei Office of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association (on a par to an ambassador,) issued a statement in July, saying, “I can’t help but being disappointed.”


While Japan is having a hard time dispelling concerns about the safety of Japanese food products, “Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO),” which is administered by the Japan Tourism Agency, invited three Chinese bloggers who are popular among young people to the Tohoku region in November last year and February this year. They enjoyed such Japanese foods as sukiyaki, sushi, and wanko soba noodles. The efforts by JNTO are aimed at letting [Chinese] consumers know the safety of Japanese foods. The bloggers, who are called “influencers” on social networking services, posted photos and comments on WeChat, a Chinese version of LINE, and Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter. Their posts are full of such comments as: “I can’t stop eating. It’s so delicious” or “Yakiniku, sushi, and beef tongue. Everything is great!” Access to their blogs have marked 32.56 million. The focus will be on whether these efforts will lead to shaping public opinion toward dispelling unsubstantiated rumors.


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