China opens the door a crack wider to Japanese rice imports

May 15, 2018
Beijing approves more processing facilities but many restrictions remain
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China allows imports of Japanese rice only from approved mills. There is only one such facility now, but Beijing will add two more to the list, potentially expanding Japan’s export market.
TOKYO — The Japanese ramen noodle chain, Ajisen Ramen, operates around 600 restaurants in China. But if you want Japanese rice with your noodles, you must pay about four times the price of a domestic variety. In China, Japanese rice is only for the deep-pocketed.
One reason Japanese rice is so expensive is that China imposes strict controls on imports of the food staple from Japan. Some of these restrictions were introduced after the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011.
But things may soon start to change. On May 9, the two counties struck a deal to increase the Japanese facilities that Beijing approves to process rice bound for its shores. China is a potentially a huge market for Japanese rice, but currently accounts for only 3% of overall exports. Hong Kong and Singapore, the two largest markets, take about 60% of the total.
Japan’s agriculture ministry sees China as vital to achieving its target of increasing annual exports of rice and related products to 100,000 tons. In 2017, Japan exported 11,800 tons of rice, of which only 298 tons went to China. According to one estimate, China consumes about 20 times more rice than Japan.
While the recent deal between the two countries is a step forward, Chinese restrictions and high costs remain major hurdles for Japanese exporters. Most experts also say Japan’s rice exports will remain vulnerable to any political tensions between the two countries.
To export white rice to China, brown rice must first be milled and fumigated at facilities that China has approved as safe. The new deal will expand the number of approved mills and fumigation facilities.
There is currently only one rice mill in Japan approved by China, operated by the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (Zen-Noh) in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo.
The agreement adds two more mills. One is located in Ishikari, on the northern main island of Hokkaido, operated by Hokuren Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives. The other is in Nishinomiya in western Hyogo Prefecture, operated by Shinmei, the nation’s largest rice wholesaler.
A Shinmei executive welcomed the agreement, saying it would enable the company to “respond more swiftly to needs in China.”
In Beijing, Shinmei sells the popular Koshihikari rice variety, grown in central Toyama Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast, for about 2,600 yen ($23.70) per 2kg. That is nearly double the retail price in Japan, and 80% higher than the price of Koshihikari produced in northeastern Niigata Prefecture and sold in Hong Kong.
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A Japanese farmer in Ibaraki Prefecture tends to his crop using a rice planting machine
One reason Japanese rice is so expensive in China is because of transport costs and distributor margins. Reducing costs is a principal challenge for Japanese rice exporters.
A Shinmei executive said that in addition to an effective marketing campaign in China, increasing rice exports requires serious cost-cutting in Japan.
For its rice exports to China, Shinmei has had to outsource the milling process to Zen-Noh. That means the rice wholesaler has to send rice harvested all across the country to the Zen-Noh plant in Kanagawa.
Since Zen-Noh’s mill and warehouses are not always available, this arrangement requires the time-consuming process of coordinating schedules between the two sides in advance.
As for fumigation to control insects, Beijing has approved only two facilities in Japan, both in Kanagawa. Under the new deal, Japan’s agriculture ministry will register five more fumigation warehouses for exports to China, including facilities in Hokkaido and Hyogo.
The new agreement will allow Shinmei to polish rice at its own mills and to fumigate it at a warehouse in Kobe for shipment to China from Kobe’s port.
China’s restrictions on food imports from Japan following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster are also a barrier to Japanese rice exports. China bans all food from 10 Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima, Miyagi and Niigata.
The import curbs, which cover rice snacks, sake and other rice products, hit the rice industry hard, said Kosuke Kuji, president of Nanbu Bijin, a sake brewer based in Ninohe, Iwate Prefecture.
While Japan and China have set up a task force to discuss steps to ease the restrictions, there is not much reason for optimism about the outcome of the talks, an agriculture ministry official said.
The chairman of the Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives, Toru Nakaya, is also cautious about the outlook for rice exports to China.
“We do not expect rapid progress, but we welcome the step forward,” Nakaya said of the recent agreement.
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Fukushima officials see silver lining in radioactive cloud as Beijing mulls lifting food ban

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Friday, 11 May, 2018
Prefecture troubled by years after nuclear disaster welcomes talks between Beijing and Tokyo that could lead to Chinese ending import restrictions
More than seven years after their prefecture became the scene of the second-worst nuclear disaster in history, trade officials in Fukushima have welcomed reports that Japan and China will discuss lifting Beijing’s ban on imports of food from the region.
 
Most of the discussions focused on developments on the Korean Peninsula, but progress was made on bilateral issues – including food exports from Fukushima and the introduction of a hotline to prevent accidental clashes in the air and at sea – enhancing the recent sense that relations between Beijing and Tokyo are improving after several tense years.
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The Fukushima officials told the South China Morning Post that they hope that translates into Beijing reopening the door to exports of agricultural and fisheries products.
“Fukushima prefecture has been strictly monitoring food products since the accident and I strongly wish for the Chinese government to quickly lift the import restrictions based on the scientific evidence,” said Takahiro Ichimura, director of the prefecture’s Trade Promotion Council.
“Fukushima prefecture is extremely large, covering an area equal to Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures as well as Tokyo combined,” he emphasised. “Regarding the nuclear accident, the evacuation area near the power plant is an extremely small part of the prefecture.”
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Fukushima is also an important rice growing region for Japan and is famous for its seafood. In 2010, the year before the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant was crippled by a magnitude-9 earthquake and a series of towering tsunami, around 153 tonnes of food were exported.
Fifty-four countries and regions imposed temporary import bans immediately after the double disaster, when radiation levels increased to unsafe levels and the Japanese government swiftly stopped shipments of food until safety could be guaranteed.
Since then, 27 countries have lifted their restrictions and the prefecture shipped 210 tonnes of agricultural products abroad last year, mainly to Malaysia and Thailand, although there has been a reluctance among some consumers to buy the products because of the lingering fear of radiation poisoning.
D
Overseas exports closer to home – those to South Korea, mainland China and Taiwan – have not picked up, however, due to the same concerns about radioactivity.
At the moment, China bans imports of food from 10 prefectures in northeast Japan and even requires food from prefectures not subject to its total ban to include a certificate indicating its origin. Some products from outside the 10 prefectures are also required to undergo radiation inspections.
As recently as March, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor turned down a request during a visit by Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono to lift the city’s ban on imports of fresh produce and milk from Fukushima and four neighbouring prefectures.
Lam also insisted that targeted radiation testing on products from the rest of Japan would continue.

China considers easier access for Japanese food

 
2018/5/10
Li, Abe agree on experts’ panel to discuss new regulations
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A farmer harvests rice in Tottori Prefecture, Japan in October 2017.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday signed an agreement to set up a joint body of experts to discuss the relaxation of an import ban on Japanese agricultural products, according to Japanese media reports.
 
The ban on products from Fukushima and nine other Japanese prefectures was imposed by China after the 2011 earthquake and nuclear power plant accident in Fukushima, reflecting fear of contamination.
 
An agreement was also reached on Wednesday to change the rules for rice exports from Japan to China.
 
Japan has been trying to increase its exports of agricultural products, aiming to reach 1 trillion yen ($9 billion) by 2019. China was the third-largest overseas market for Japanese produce last year at $900 million, according to Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
 
Japan has been lobbying foreign countries to repeal their bans on the nation’s produce. A dispute on this issue with South Korea led to litigation at the WTO, which ruled in favor of Japan on February.
 
“Japan wants international recognition for agricultural products from Fukushima and its vicinity,” Zhang Jifeng, a research fellow with the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said in an interview with the Global Times.
 
“If the ban is lifted I would buy products from Japan,” said a shopper who frequents a Japanese-owned store in Beijing. “I expect that imported products will have passed strict safety requirements on both sides. The Japanese today are consuming their own products and they seem fine,” she said.
 
The agreement also opened the way for more Japanese rice sales to China. Since China first allowed imports of Japanese rice in 2007, all shipments of the grain had to be polished and fumigated at designated facilities in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of capital Tokyo.
 
The approved polishing facilities have been expanded from one to three, and fumigation facilities from five to seven, distributed across Japan. This change is expected to help sales of Japanese rice to China.
 
 “With more facilities for processing rice, Chinese consumers will have more options to buy rice from different Japanese regions,” an official with the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, who only gave his name as Nozoe, said in an interview with Global Times.
 
“Having more facilities will also help speed up the process and lower costs, so we will able to provide Japanese rice at a more agreeable price for Chinese buyers,” he said.
 
Rice is the most consumed grain in both China and Japan, but annual per capita consumption in China, at 105 kilograms per year, is about double that of Japan with 54, according to Japanese government data.
 
Customs data show China imported 4 million tons of rice in 2017, mostly from Southeast Asia. And Japan is trying to expand its presence in China by appealing directly to consumers
 
 “We have now an antenna shop in Shanghai, where you can taste rice from different areas of Japan. E-commerce sites and Japanese restaurants in China also increasingly offer Japanese rice,” said Nozoe. But challenges remain.
 
An antenna shop refers to a physical store run by a government entity with the purpose of market research.
 
“Sales are constant but not very high,” a woman surnamed Zeng, owner of an online shop offering imported food, told the Global Times.
 

Japan immorality in pushing the export of its contaminated foods to other countries

From The Yomiuri Shimbun, a propaganda mouthpiece close to the Japanese government.

 

Give new impetus to countries to lift import bans on Japanese seafood

An unfair import ban imposed in reaction to the nuclear accident in Fukushima Prefecture is unacceptable. Japan must make use of this clear judgment for countries to accelerate lifting such bans.

A World Trade Organization dispute settlement panel ruled that South Korea’s ban on fishery products imported from Japan amounts to “arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination” and violates WTO rules.

Citing the nuclear accident as a reason, South Korea has imposed a blanket import ban on fishery products from eight prefectures, including Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, since September 2013. For some of the import items, the ban has a serious impact on the fishery industries in areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear accident.

Japan filed complaints with the WTO in 2015, claiming Seoul’s ban was “not based on scientific grounds and hampered free trade.” It calls for the ban to be lifted on 28 kinds of fishery products, such as bonito and saury.

The WTO has sided with Japan because it did not get a satisfactory explanation from South Korea about why Seoul focused solely on fishery products imported from Japan.

Might Seoul have aimed to exclude Japanese fishery products that compete with those of South Korea? If so, such an attitude would run counter to the WTO’s principle of free trade and losing the case would be inevitable.

The South Korean government announced that it will appeal to a higher WTO panel, equivalent to a higher court. A situation should be avoided in which handing down the final decision is unnecessarily postponed.

Moves by S. Korea, China vital

It is reasonable that Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Ken Saito said, “[We] call for South Korea to sincerely and swiftly correct the violation of the [WTO] agreement.”

Japan exports products after subjecting them to an even stricter examination than is required by international standards on the influence of radioactive substances on foods.

The number of countries and regions that imposed import bans on Japanese foods after the nuclear accident was initially 54, but it declined by half to 27 as time went by.

In addition to South Korea, many of Japan’s main trading partners, including China, the United States and the European Union, still impose import restrictions on Japanese foods. Among other steps, they continue to ban importing some items or call for the presentation of certificates of inspection of Japanese foods.

In particular, China has taken the same level of strict restrictive measures as South Korea, and banned importing all foods from Tokyo and nine other prefectures.

The moves of China and South Korea seem to strongly influence other Asian countries and others that are still taking some kind of regulatory measures against Japanese foods.

In parallel with its efforts regarding South Korea, the Japanese government needs to make more efforts toward negotiations with China for lifting its import ban.

Although the government has set the goal of exporting ¥1 trillion worth of agricultural, forestry and fisheries products and other foods in 2019, such exports remain sluggish.

It has been pointed out that meat and fruit imported from Japan, which have become luxury brands, are sought after and praised by wealthy people abroad, yet there are few products for the most populous middle-income bracket of other countries.

There is no doubt that lifting the import bans of each country would also contribute to the improvement of the image of Japanese products overall.

http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0004265927

Experts doubt lifting of Japan food ban

Concerns linger about imports from nuclear radiation area
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Quarantine officers inspect king crabs imported from Japan in Taicang, East China’s

Jiangsu Province in December 2016.

The curbs on imports of Japanese food produced in areas hit by the country’s nuclear crisis will not be easily relaxed or lifted, and Chinese consumers won’t accept such imports given food safety concerns, experts said.
 
The comments came after reports in the Japanese media said that China will probably relax import restrictions on Japanese food that were put in place after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, signaling an improvement in relations between the two countries.
 
A report by Kyodo News Agency on January 1 said that China has proposed talks with Japan on whether to ease or lift an import ban on food from 10 prefectures imposed after the meltdown at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant, citing related diplomatic sources.
 
China has offered to set up a working group to discuss the matter in response to a request by a group of Japanese lawmakers led by Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, who visited Beijing and held talks with the Chinese side about relaxing import restrictions on December 29, 2017, said the Kyodo report.
 
It also noted that Zhi Shuping, head of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), China’s quality watchdog, made the proposal when he met with Nikai that day.
 
The AQSIQ banned imports of food produced in 10 prefectures in Japan including Miyagi, Nagano and Fukushima in 2011, amid fears of radiation contamination following the disaster.
 
The quality watchdog did not reply to a request for comment from the Global Times as of press time. Neither has any official statement from the Japanese side been released.
 
The Kyodo report said the talks were “a sign that the governments of the two countries are looking for ways to mend ties as they mark [in 2018] the 40th anniversary of the signing of the treaty of peace and friendship between Japan and China.”
 
But this view was seen as overly optimistic by some Chinese experts.
 
Chen Zilei, deputy director of the National Association for the Japanese Economy, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the beginning of such talks does not mean an easing or lifting of the ban is imminent.
 
“The beginning of negotiations might signal an improvement in bilateral relations, but we have our own supervision standards and requirements for imported goods, which will not be changed,” Chen said.
 
Besides, Japan needs to publicize the accident-related information in a more open and transparent way in order to address the concerns, Chen said, adding that this would be a prerequisite for carrying out the negotiations.
 
“It is also Japan’s obligation to the international community,” he noted.
 
Many countries and regions, including China, the US, South Korea, Singapore and the EU, have curbed imports of food products from areas near the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant over fears of potential contamination, although some have recently eased their restrictions.
 
The EU has decided to ease import restrictions on Japan’s farm and marine products, including rice, the Japan Times reported in November.
 
Consumers’ concern
 
Ruan Guangfeng, director of the science and technology department at the China Food Information Center, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the radiation in the areas near Fukushima has returned to the level before the disaster happened, according to the related data.
 
“Even if the import ban is lifted, consumers do not need to worry too much, as the import checks will only be stricter,” Ruan noted.
 
However, not all consumers will draw confidence from the scientific conclusion, according to Zhu Danpeng, a food industry analyst.
 
“In terms of the industrial side, there is no big problem based on the efforts of the Japanese government as well as the long time it has taken to restore the situation. However, it is the consumer end, which takes up 80 percent of the importance in the food industry, that plays the key role,” Zhu told the Global Times on Wednesday.
 
“Most consumers have a psychological barrier against accepting food from the nuclear radiation areas,” Zhu said, noting that Japanese seafood has not been very popular in the Chinese market over the past two years, partly due to increasing competition from products from countries such as Denmark, Norway and Canada.
 
“Friends around me have declined to eat any Japanese seafood since the accident took place since you cannot tell whether it is from the radiation-stricken area or not,” he said.
 

China must exercise caution in lifting ban on import of Japanese food

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According to Kyodo News Agency, China and Japan recently held talks on whether to ease or lift the ban on food imports from 10 Japanese prefectures imposed after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, with the Chinese government offering to set up a working group on the issue. There has been no official confirmation from the Chinese side.
 
The earthquake, which rocked Japan in March, 2011, caused a radiation leak from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station after which the Chinese government immediately banned food from Japanese prefectures surrounding the facility. Neither Beijing nor Tokyo has released any statement on lifting the ban, yet the Kyodo News Agency report attracted wide attention.
 
Since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power in late 2012, rebuilding people’s confidence in affected areas both at home and abroad has become his major task. During the lower house election in 2014, Abe tasted grilled fish in Fukushima. When Britain’s Prince William visited Japan in 2015, Abe invited him to visit Fukushima and enjoy local food with ingredients from local producers. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono brought Fukushima peach juice to British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson during his visit to the UK in December 2017.
 
The Abe administration has been proactively promoting the safety of Fukushima food on public occasions, with little success. According to research revealed by the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute in 2016, many people are feeling more anxious about radiation in Fukushima. According to Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, China, the US, Russia, South Korea, Singapore and other countries have kept their bans on importing food produced in some regions or sometimes from the whole country. This has been an awkward reality for Abe’s administration.
 
It remains to be seen whether the working group will be eventually established. But it is an indisputable fact that Abe’s administration has repeatedly requested the Chinese government to lift the ban on food imports over the past few years. For example, during the agricultural vice-ministerial meeting in Beijing in 2016, the Japanese side had hoped that China will remove food import restrictions. However, China did not give any specific reply. When Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, visited Beijing in December last year, he also expressed his wish of easing the import ban to the head of China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.
 
It can be argued that China is Japan’s primary destination for food exports from affected areas including Fukushima. This is not only because China has a huge market, but also because any Chinese move will be likely followed by other Asian countries.
 
With recent improvements in Sino-Japanese ties, the possibility of setting up a special working group cannot be ruled out. However, even if the group is established, Beijing may not completely lift import restrictions on Japanese food. On the one hand, the key to lifting the ban lies in whether food products from Japan can meet Chinese standards. On the other, Chinese people’s doubts over the food in the affected areas also play a crucial role. Even if imported food from Japan’s disaster-affected region passed Chinese tests, it is not very likely to appear on Chinese dining tables given the distrust of the Chinese public.
 
China and Japan are lately cooperating in a number of fields including economy and politics. Import and export of agricultural products is a vital link in the cooperation trail. According to a Xinhua report in March, some food from Japan’s affected areas was flowing to China via e-commerce platforms, posing a severe safety risk to Chinese consumers. Therefore, when it comes to lifting the ban on food from disaster affected areas, China should exercise caution. Political interaction is important, but people’s well-being is above all.
By Chen Yang Source:Global Times Published
The author is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Sociology at Toyo University.

Chinese parents seek refunds for Japan trip, citing radiation concerns

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Families of 40 choir members cancel Tokyo trip after travel advisory from Chinese embassy

Parents of a children’s choir in southern China are seeking refunds for a trip to a singing competition in Japan that they cancelled over concerns of radiation leaks.

Their requests to refund the training, travel and accommodation fees, which add up to 19,800 yuan (US$2.900)for each child, have been denied by the singing training centre of the Guangzhou Opera House, with which the choir is affiliated, Television Southern of Guangdong reported.

The concerned parents said each family paid fees to the training centre in January for training, visas, insurance and accommodation for the trip to Japan for an international choir competition in August.

Forty students signed up for the trip, the report said.

Many parents became worried a month later when the Chinese embassy in Tokyo issued a reminder of record-high radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant, which has been leaking radioactivity since being badly damaged by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The embassy statement cited a spokesperson from the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing and urged Chinese tourists in Japan to make appropriate arrangements. The request for refunds was denied by the training centre, who insisted that parents would have to pay 20 per cent of costs, or about 4,000 yuan, to cancel the trip.

Many parents said that was unacceptable as health concerns should be of priority to the training centre as well as the families.

Some parents rallied in front of the training centre to raise attention to the issue, the report said.

The head of the choir said in a statement that the group was non-profit and he would personally ask for a full refund from the Opera House.

He said he had arranged a meeting to negotiate for the parents on Thursday.

Japan has become a popular travel destination for Chinese tourists in recent years after it eased visa rules for mainland tourists, who have flooded to their near neighbour where they spend up large on items that range from luxury watches to toilet seats.

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2083086/chinese-parents-seek-refunds-japan-trip-citing-radiation-concerns