By Takao Harakawa, staff writer
This month, Morocco lifted its import restrictions on Japanese food products. Morocco was one of the 54 countries that imposed restrictions following the nuclear accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. With this recent move by Morocco, the number of countries and regions still enforcing nuclear accident-related restrictions now stands at 19. The Japanese government announced the lifting of the restrictions by Morocco on Sept. 11. That same day, Japan and the UK reached a general agreement on an economic partnership agreement (EPA). Together, these two events mark the final achievements of the former Abe administration in trade diplomacy.
Under the Moroccan import restrictions, exports from 13 Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima and Miyagi Prefectures, had to be accompanied by certificates of radioactivity inspection. In the announcement on Sept. 11, the Japanese government said it confirmed the requirement had been lifted as of Sept. 9.
The Japanese government spoke with Abdellah Janati, director general of Morocco’s Office National de Sécurité Sanitaire des Produits Alimentaires (ONSSA), during his visit to Japan last December, and explained to him that Japan uses standards more rigorous than international standards in its radioactivity inspections of food products. In January this year, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Keisuke Suzuki traveled to Morocco to request the early lifting of the restrictions. Morocco’s recent action marks the success of the Japan’s diplomatic efforts.
Meanwhile, some of Japan’s neighbors, including China and Taiwan, still ban all food imports from certain regions of Japan, including Fukushima Prefecture. South Korea also continues its restrictions, including an import ban on seafood from Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate, and five other prefectures. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, China was the second-largest importer of Japanese seafood and agricultural products at 153.7 billion yen last year. Taiwan was the fourth largest (90.4 billion yen) and South Korea fifth (50.1 billion yen) [despite the restrictions these countries have in place].
In February 2018, a World Trade Organization (WTO) panel determined that South Korea’s import restrictions were in violation of WTO rules. However, in April 2019, the WTO’s appellate body overturned the panel’s decision citing “insufficient study” as the reason. This meant that South Korea was able to keep the import restrictions in place, and there are no signs this country will relax its restrictions in the near future.
China, on the other hand, lifted its ban on the import of rice from Niigata Prefecture a couple of year ago. When Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s state visit was being planned for this spring, some Japanese government officials hoped there would be a further relaxation of the import restrictions prior to the visit. The visit was cancelled due to the pandemic, however,
Compared with the Chinese situation, Taiwan’s plan for relaxing and lifting its import restrictions is clearer. In November 2018, Taiwan voted on and decided to extend the import ban on Japanese food products from five prefectures, including Fukushima Prefecture, for two more years until the end of November this year.
The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has made clear its intention to promote Japan’s agricultural exports. The prime minister is expected to urge Xi and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to make import decisions based on scientific evidence.