Taiwan Food Imports from Fukushima-Affected Areas Become Wedge Issue with Japan

Japanese government keeps on trying to ram food exports from Fukushima radiation affected areas down the throats of their Asian neighbors ….
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Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe
December 17, 2018
IT IS UNSURPRISING that Taiwan will not be admitted to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CFTPP) because of the referendum vote against food imports from Fukushima-affected areas held in late November concurrent with nine-in-one elections. Namely, the issue of food imports is one upon which Taiwan has long been pushed around by larger, more powerful countries, who dangle the threat of being denied admittance to international free trade agreements if Taiwan does not allow food imports.
The Abe administration has in the past made allowing food imports from Fukushima-affected areas a condition for stronger diplomatic relations with Japan. This would be part of a more general effort by the Abe administration to promote the prefecture of Fukushima as safe, with concerns that lingering radiation may still cause harmful effects in the region after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The Abe administration has thus attempted to promote food exports from the area, as well as to encourage tourism to the area.
Concerns over whether food from Fukushima is safe are valid, seeing as this is an issue of contention in Japan itself. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is deeply wedded to the Japanese nuclear industry, with an unusual willingness to push for nuclear energy in spite of outbreaks of large-scale public protest. Concerns have also been longstanding that the LDP has been unwilling to provide accurate nuclear assessments for the Fukushima area, or sought to mislead through official statistics.
After the results of the referendum in late November, in which 7,791,856 voted against allowing food imports from Fukushima, the Japanese government initially expressed understanding regarding the results of the referendum, suggesting that not allowing food imports from Fukushima would not be an obstacle for Japan-Taiwan relations going forward. However, this appears to have not entirely been the truth.
Indeed, as the KMT was a powerful force behind the push for the referendum, it is likely that the KMT sought to use the issue of food imports from Fukushima-affected areas as a means to not only to attack the DPP with the accusation that it was endangering public safety but also sabotage closer relations between Japan and Taiwan. Apart from that the KMT’s Chinese nationalism has a strong anti-Japanese element, the KMT is pro-unification and so opposes closer ties between Japan and Taiwan, seeing as Japan could be a powerful regional ally that interceded on behalf of Taiwan against Chinese incursion.
The CFTPP is a regional free trade agreement that is the form that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) took on after America withdrew from the trade agreement under Donald Trump. Despite the fact that the TPP was orchestrated under American auspices as a means to counter growing Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region, the Trump administration favored protectionism instead of free trade, seeing free trade as overextending American resources rather than expanding its economic reach.
Japan subsequently became the dominant power among former TPP signatories, continuing to push for the agreement because it was still beneficial to Asia-Pacific nations to economically integrate as a regional bloc against the threat of China.
This would not be the first time that food imports have been used as a condition of Taiwan’s admittance to or denial from the TPP framework. America previously made allowing American beef imports into Taiwan to be a condition of Taiwan’s possibly entering into the TPP, seeing as there were in concerns in Taiwan that the use of the hormone ractopamine—banned in most of the world’s countries but not in America—was unsafe. This, too, was a valid concern regarding food safety, but the KMT was interested in the issue because it hoped to use this as a wedge issue to sabotage relations between Taiwan and the US.
Now that Japan is the primary driving force behind the CFTPP, as the renewed version of the TPP, food imports from Fukushima-affected areas have taken priority as the issue which would determine Taiwan’s admittance or non-admittance to the CFTPP. As free trade agreements are more generally a way for large, powerful countries to coerce smaller, weaker countries into relations of economic subordination, this would be nothing surprising.
More generally, free trade agreements have also long been held over the heads of Taiwanese voters in order to influence how they vote, as observed in the examples of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement or the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement under the Ma administration. But in light of the issue of food imports from Fukushima-affected areas being a contested issue in Taiwan, it remains to be seen whether the CFTPP will become a significant wedge issue in Taiwanese politics going forward.
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Taiwan Votes to Maintain Import Ban on Fukushima Food Imports

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December 3, 2018
While Fukushima suffered a blow, trade ties between Japan and Taiwan avoided any major impact.
On Friday, Japan and Taiwan signed off on five bilateral trade pacts just days after Taiwan voted in a referendum to uphold an import ban on agricultural products from areas surrounding the Fukushima nuclear fallout.
Last week, 7.8 million voters in Taiwan approved renewing a legally binding food ban that was originally imposed after the nuclear disaster in 2011. The ongoing agricultural ban covers five Japanese prefectures including Fukushima and nearby Gunma, Ibaraki, Tochigi, and Chiba over an extended two year period. Although the setback was expected to put a strain on bilateral relations, outright animosity has been diverted for now.
While there was no hiding the tension during two days of annual trade talks in Taipei, negotiations remained on cordial terms. In the absence of formal diplomatic representatives, leaders of the Taiwan-Japan Relations Association and Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association reached one agreement to speed up customs clearance on trade goods and four memorandums of understanding dealing with exchanges of patent information, business partnerships, medical equipment trade, and joint research.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono described the referendum results as “extremely disappointing” based on government efforts to provide food safety information and its continuous requests to lift the ban. Critics pointed out that the issue of Fukushima food safety was addressed on the referendum without any scientific backing. Kono said he was planning to retaliate by taking into consideration all available options as a future response. One tactic included advancing the World Trade Organization dispute settlement route and pushing efforts to persuade public opinion in Taiwan based on scientific data.
Although Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has called for closer exchanges between the two countries, she also stressed the need to respect the referendum as the embodiment of public opinion. Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Andrew Lee also responded saying they will handle the issue “carefully” and seek understanding from the Japanese side.
Taiwan has also been seeking to sign a full free trade agreement with Japan, the island’s third largest trading partner, but momentum to accelerate negotiations has stalled since the referendum. Taiwan’s lack of support in dispelling misinformation based on scientific inspection fueled criticisms in Japan that the food ban referendum was politically motivated by anti-Japanese feelings.
However, Taiwan isn’t the only government to regulate Fukushima imports behind the backdrop of radiation concerns. China, South Korea, Singapore, and Macau are among the neighbors imposing partial seafood and farm produce restrictions to varying degrees. Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori acknowledged how rumors and hearsay overseas were making it difficult to eliminate import embargoes, but said progress on the safety of prefectural products can be seen from the number of countries easing restrictions. The number of countries limiting imports from the area has dropped from an initial 54 to 25.
A major breakthrough signaling regional attitudes are loosening up came with China’s announcement that they will begin to relax import restrictions on rice from Japan’s west coast Niigata prefecture. China suspended imports of all animal feed, agriculture and fisheries products after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. But after scientific evaluation, described as examining wind direction and distance from the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactor, Chinese President Xi Jinping cancelled import restrictions on the condition that white and brown rice are processed at milling factories registered with the Chinese Customs Authority.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to persuade Xi to lift restrictions at the bilateral summit in October have paid off, symbolizing a warming of political ties.
Niigata is one of Japan’s flagship regions for rice production and there is growing demand for the staple food in China, which consumes 20 times more rice than Japan and amounts to 30 percent of the world market. Seven years after the ban was first imposed, its abolition unlocks the potential to expand exports within a market of wealthy consumers eager for high end Japanese rice.

Japan may take Taiwan’s Fukushima food import ban to WTO

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December 2, 2018
Japan may take Taiwan’s import ban on food products from Fukushima and other prefectures affected by the 2011 nuclear disaster to the World Trade Organization, Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Sunday.
“It goes against the WTO’s quarantine-related agreement,” Kono said, referring to Taiwan’s ban on products from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures.
 
Taiwan voted to maintain the ban in a legally binding referendum on Nov. 25. Taiwanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrew Lee said the ministry respected public opinion on the issue and will explain to Japan the safety concerns of the Taiwanese public.
At the WTO, “there is a procedure that allows (a member state) to file a complaint. If necessary, we need to act,” Kono told a meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture.
“The WTO sets clear rules that (import bans) should be decided based on scientific foundations,” he said.
Following the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, triggered by the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, the prefectural government has sought to ease consumer concern about the safety of farm and fishery products through radiation checks.
Since 2015, all shipments of rice from Fukushima have cleared the screening, with radioactive cesium levels below the 100 becquerel per kilogram limit set by the Japanese government for agricultural, forestry and fishery products. No samples of vegetables and fruit from Fukushima have exceeded the legal limit in inspections since April 2013, and no fishery products have since 2015.
The Japanese chamber in Taiwan, with 471 member companies, has also called on the Taiwanese government to re-examine the ban based on scientific evidence.
As of August, the Taiwanese government has inspected over 125,000 samples of imported food products from Japan since March 15, 2011, with none exceeding the island’s legal limits for radiation, according to the Japanese chamber.
Japan is Taiwan’s third-largest trading partner, while Taiwan is Japan’s fourth-largest trading partner.

Taiwan and Japan to hold trade talks in shadow of vote to keep post-Fukushima food ban

 

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Nov 27, 2018

TAIPEI – Taiwan and Japan will hold annual trade talks in Taipei this week, coming after a weekend referendum in the former that could have a negative impact on bilateral relations.
Sources familiar with the two-day talks from Thursday say that both sides are planning to sign at least six agreements or memorandums of understanding.

They will cover a wide range of areas, including cooperation in management of medical equipment and materials, joint research by young researchers, and the mutual support and advancement of cooperation between small and medium-size businesses.
On Saturday, a majority of Taiwanese voted in favor of maintaining a ban on food imports from five Japanese prefectures that was imposed after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Taiwan’s representative to Japan, Frank Hsieh, earlier warned that if the referendum were approved, Taiwan would have a “grave price” to pay.
That “grave price” could include Taiwan’s bid to join a Japan-led trade pact, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Taiwan has expressed its desire to participate in the second-round of accession talks on numerous occasions.
Taiwan has also been seeking to sign a full-fledged free trade agreement with Japan. However, the ban on the imports of Japanese food products has stalled negotiations on the trade pact.
Despite the absence of diplomatic ties, which were severed in 1972, the unofficial relationship between Taiwan and Japan has remained robust.
Japan is Taiwan’s third-largest trading partner after China, including Hong Kong, while Taiwan is Japan’s fourth-largest trading partner.
Bilateral trade totaled $62.7 billion last year, up about 4 percent from the previous year. Japanese investment in Taiwan last year also increased more than 84 percent from the previous year to $649 million.
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/11/27/national/politics-diplomacy/taiwan-japan-hold-trade-talks-shadow-vote-keep-post-fukushima-food-ban/#.W_6-RfZFzIX

Fukushima farmers see need to better publicize ‘food safety’

hjjvjbkk.jpgVegetables produced in Fukushima Prefecture are withdrawn from the shelves of a supermarket in the city of Fukushima on March 23, 2011

 

November 25, 2018
FUKUSHIMA (Kyodo) — Farmers and fishermen in Fukushima called for further efforts to convince the public that their food is safe to eat on Sunday after Taiwan decided to maintain its import ban on Japanese food from areas affected by the 2011 nuclear disaster.
Taiwan’s public voted in a referendum Saturday to maintain the ban on agricultural products and other food from Fukushima and four other prefectures.
“All we can do is to work harder until people understand that our products are safe,” said Masao Koizumi, a rice farmer in Fukushima.
The prefectural government of Fukushima has been conducting radiation checks on all rice produced in the prefecture. Since 2015, all shipments cleared the screening, with radioactive cesium levels below the 100-becquerel-per-kilogram limit set by the central government.
“When people see the inspection readings, they will know that there is no threat of radioactive materials,” Koizumi said.
Tetsu Nozaki, the head of an association representing fishery cooperatives in the prefecture, said, “We are disappointed, but we just need to make sure that we keep communicating the safety of our products.”
https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20181125/p2g/00m/0dm/049000c

Taiwan votes to maintain ban on food from Fukushima disaster areas

yfujgjkgkihk.jpgIn this file photo dated Aug. 27, 2018, senior officials of the Kuomintang, Taiwan’s major political party, hold a press conference in Taipei to state their opposition to lifting a ban on food imports from Fukushima and four other Japanese prefectures. The banners read “oppose nuclear food.” (Mainichi/Shizuya Fukuoka)

TAIPEI (Kyodo) — A referendum on maintaining a ban on food products from five Japanese prefectures, imposed after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, saw the restrictions kept in place on Saturday, dealing a major blow to the government of President Tsai Ing-wen and the island’s relations with Japan.
For a referendum to deliver a decisive result in Taiwan, the “yes” vote must account for more than 25 percent of the electorate, or about 4.95 million voters.
The Central Election Commission website showed that more than 15 million of the 19.76 million eligible voters cast their ballots. More than 6 million voters approved the initiative, well over the 25 percent required.
The referendum is legally binding and government agencies must take necessary action.
The result dealt a significant blow to the Democratic Progressive Party government which proposed easing the ban after coming to power in May 2016, but backed away when the main opposition Nationalist Party (KMT) questioned the new government’s ability to ensure the safety of the imported products.
Government officials responsible for the policy declined to comment on Sunday, only saying it is a matter for President Tsai to decide.
Tsai announced her resignation as DPP leader on Saturday following her party’s disastrous defeat in key mayoral elections that day, races viewed as indicators of voter sentiment ahead of the next presidential and island-wide legislative elections in 2020.
Some worry that the result of the referendum on Japanese food imports will have a negative impact on the island’s relations with Japan. Taiwan’s representative to Japan, Frank Hsieh, said the initiative was a KMT scheme aimed at undermining bilateral relations between Taiwan and Japan at a time when the two are seeking closer ties as a way of protecting themselves from an increasingly belligerent China.
He also warned that if the referendum is successful, Taiwan would pay “a grave price” that will affect all its people.
China is the only other country still restricting comprehensive imports from Fukushima Prefecture and nearby Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi, and Chiba prefectures.
The referendum, initiated by the KMT, was one of 10 initiatives put to a vote in conjunction with Saturday’s island-wide local elections.
Voters approved two other referendums initiated by the KMT. One sought to stop the construction of new coal-fired power plants or the expansion of existing ones, and the other asked voters if they wanted to phase out thermal power plants.
Beijing will be happy about the result of a referendum on the name the island uses when competing at international sports events. It had sought to change the name used to participate in future international events, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, from “Chinese Taipei” to “Taiwan.”
The CEC website showed that more than 8.9 million cast their ballots. About 3 million of the eligible voters approved the initiative, less the 25 percent needed for the referendum to count.
The referendum was highly unpopular among athletes, who were worried that a successful outcome would hamper their right to compete, as the International Olympic Committee resolved in May that it would stand by a 1981 agreement that Taiwanese athletes must compete as “Chinese Taipei.”
The IOC had also warned that Taiwan would risk having its recognition suspended or cancelled if the referendum was successful.
China was annoyed by the proposal and pressured the East Asian Olympic Committee to revoke Taichung’s plan to host the 2019 East Asian Youth Games.
Beijing said that if the referendum was successful, it would not sit idly by and would “definitely respond,” without elaborating.
There were also five referendums relating to same-sex marriage — three initiated by opponents of same-sex marriage and two by supporters.
The CEC website showed that all three of the anti-same sex marriage initiatives passed, while both the pro-same sex marriage referenda failed.
The result also puts the Tsai government in an awkward position as Taiwan’s highest court, the Council of Grand Justices, ruled 18 months ago that the government must, within two years, amend the Civil Code or enact a special law legalizing gay marriage.
https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20181125/p2g/00m/0in/010000c?fbclid=IwAR0ZlvV-JO_PHes83Gn8mutF6jKkFBzyx6iAYPJPw_2FA-tSqx3W71k9y2c

WATCH OUT: Japan is pushing exports of its radiation contaminated agricultural products to other countries saying there is no radiation anymore in Fukushima

Japanese regions struggle to export farm produce to Taiwan as radiation fears politicized

 

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Information boards explain stringent safety measures taken in Chiba Prefecture east of Tokyo during an agricultural expo held in the northwestern Taiwanese city of Taoyuan in May 2018.

September 30, 2018
TAIPEI, TAOYUAN, Taiwan/BEIJING — Some local governments in Japan are struggling to export their agricultural products to Taiwan as Taipei is expected to conduct a referendum on whether or not to lift a ban on imports from five Japanese prefectures following the 2011 disaster at the Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.
During a recent agricultural exhibition held in the city of Taouyan in northwestern Taiwan, few participants dropped by a booth run by the government of Chiba Prefecture in eastern Japan, which is one of five prefectures hit by the ban. The remaining four prefectures are Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma, all north of Tokyo. In contrast, the stall of Miyazaki was inundated by visitors trying to test the juicy beef the southern Japan prefecture is famous for.
Chiba Gov. Kensaku Morita visited Taiwan in November last year and met with Taoyuan Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan. They agreed that local sweets made from peanuts harvested in Chiba should be made available in Taiwan, too. As Chen is said to be close to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, an individual who accompanied the governor told the Mainichi Shimbun that the two leaders had “a fairly in-depth discussion” toward lifting the ban.
However, at the agricultural festival earlier this year in Taoyuan, the Chiba government was not allowed to bring in food samples because of the import ban. Officials only had a video and panels explaining the safety of agricultural products in Chiba. “We want the ban to be lifted as soon as possible,” emphasized an official during the event.
Fukushima also wants to resume exports of peaches to Taiwan, which was the biggest overseas market for the fruit before the nuclear accident. The radioactive fallout from the TEPCO power plant contaminated a large swath of land near the facility. The Ibaraki Prefectural Government also sees Taiwan as a promising market for its agricultural items.
Taiwan ranked fourth among overseas markets for Japanese farm and food products last year, importing 83.8 billion yen out of the 807.1 billion yen total value. Hong Kong is the No. 1 importer, followed by the United States and China.
The Tsai administration is positive about lifting the ban, as most Japanese farm products do not contain detectable levels of radioactive materials under a strict screening system. Administration officials say if Taiwan came after China in resuming the import of Japanese farm products, it would be a blow to its relationship with Japan, which is vital for Taipei, along with its ties with the U.S., to counter Beijing. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province and is trying to bring the island back into its fold eventually.
But people close to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party say Taiwan’s largest opposition party Kuomintang is using the issue to wage a political attack on the ruling party, fanning up public fear toward farm products from the five Japanese prefectures as “nuclear food.” The November referendum is expected to be called after the opposition collected some 470,000 signatures, more than the legally required number, to conduct the vote.
Taiwan is not alone in blocking Japanese agricultural products from entering the domestic market. It wasn’t until July this year that Hong Kong lifted its ban on agricultural items from four Japanese prefectures, but it still keeps its door closed to Fukushima produce.
China also continues to deny the import of agricultural and food items from 10 prefectures in the Tohoku and Kanto regions in the northern and eastern parts of the country, respectively, including Tokyo. The country accepts produce from other Japanese regions only if the goods come with certificates saying they are radiation free.
The Japanese government and business community have repeatedly demanded that Beijing relax the regulations, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed in May to set up a joint panel of experts to discuss the removal of the restriction.
The reason behind the intransigence indicated by some Asian countries and regions in denying Japanese farm produce is public concern. A survey of consumers in 10 countries and regions in the United States, Europe and Asia in February last year found that 81 percent of respondents in Taiwan said they were “worried about Fukushima produce.” The ratio stood at 69.3 percent in South Korea, followed by China with 66.3 percent. But a domestic poll in Japan by the Consumer Affairs Agency in February 2018 found that people hesitating to buy products from Fukushima was just 12.7 percent.
According to associate professor Naoya Sekiya of the University of Tokyo, a specialist in disaster information studies who conducted the 10-country/region survey last year, “the negative image caused by the 2011 nuclear accident just stuck, and people are not aware of food safety checks.” Only 10 percent-plus of people in South Korea responded that they knew about the complete radiation checks on all Fukushima rice carried out by the prefectural government. The ratio was just more than 20 percent for Taiwan, while 40 percent of Japanese respondents said yes.
Farmers in areas affected by the nuclear disaster have made efforts to reduce radiation, including the use of potassium to prevent the absorption of radioactive cesium from the fallout. Seventeen prefectures as well as agricultural cooperatives and shipment companies are testing their farm products. During the past three years, more than 99 percent of tested items did not contain detectable levels of radiation. In Fukushima, too, no rice was found to contain radiation above acceptable levels.
“Just telling people how tasty the food items are is not enough,” said Sekiya. “You also have to convey that airborne radiation levels are completely different from those right after the accident, no radioactive materials have been detected in food items, and the checking system functions with no problems.”