Strengthen production, expand sales channels to accelerate food exports

Exports of Japan’s agricultural and marine products are brisk, as are those of other foodstuffs. Exports from January to June this year were valued at ¥577.3 billion, up about 30% from a year earlier and a record high for the first half of the year.

The public and private sectors need to work together to strengthen the foundations of production and expand sales channels to further accelerate this strong export trend.

Due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, more people overseas are also eating at home. Benefiting from so-called stay-at-home demand, sales of Japanese food have increased in countries such as the United States and China, according to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry. Beef and sake have been especially popular.

Prospects have emerged of achieving the government’s target of annual exports worth ¥1 trillion, a goal originally set for 2019 but not yet reached. Accurately determining the changes in overseas demand can be said to have helped strong exports.

Exports of beef, such as wagyu Japanese beef, to the United States increased by 120% on a year-on-year basis as exporters devised ways to cut beef into thin slices for household use there.

While tourists cannot travel to Japan due to the coronavirus pandemic, many people are still seeking the taste of Japan, and cross-border online sales of Japanese agricultural and marine products and other foodstuffs have increased, particularly in China. As a result, sake sales nearly doubled in January-June compared to the same period in the previous year, the ministry said.

During the Tokyo Olympics, many foreign athletes and officials who stayed in Fukushima Prefecture, the venue for women’s softball, praised the peaches grown in the prefecture. It is important to promote high-quality Japanese food at the Paralympics and other events as well.

Although exports of Japan’s agricultural and marine products and other foodstuffs are growing, they account for only about 2% of production value, which is lower than that of major developed countries such as the United States and France.

Since Japanese products have been highly valued amid the boom for washoku traditional Japanese cuisine, there should be plenty of room to increase exports.

Japan has traditionally grown products mainly for the domestic market and exported the surplus. However, in its export strategy outlined in November last year, the government shifted its policy to focus on generating products for overseas markets.

According to the latest export strategy, the government will designate 27 products, including beef, rice, sake and apples, as priority items, select about 1,300 production areas and producers for these priority items, and provide them with support.

The agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries have many small and midsize businesses, making it difficult for them to respond to the situation individually. It is essential for public administration and production areas to work together. It is hoped there will be a system to help production areas find human resources in the private sector, such as from trading companies and other entities, who are well versed in overseas affairs.

It will be important to reduce distribution costs by increasing the number of refrigeration and cold storage warehouses near ports and airports.

Intellectual property rights must also be thoroughly protected. There have been cases in which seedlings of the high-grade Shine Muscat grape variety developed by a government body were taken to China and South Korea. Management of wagyu genetic resources is also a challenge. The Japanese government must strengthen its surveillance to avoid such resources flowing abroad.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 24, 2021.