Taiwan’s lifting of import ban offers a chance to promote Japanese food

Foods made in Japan are subject to strict safety inspections. Taking advantage of Taiwan’s planned easing of its import restrictions on Japanese food, the Japanese government needs to step up its efforts to dispel misconceptions overseas about Japanese food products.

Taiwan said it will lift a ban on imports of food products from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Chiba, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures as early as late February. The ban has been in place since the 2011 accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The administration of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has been looking for a way to lift the ban, but there has been deep-rooted opposition from consumers. In a 2018 referendum, lifting the ban was not approved. The Tsai administration’s decision to resume imports is a welcome development.

Last year, Taiwan lifted a ban on imports of U.S. meat raised with feed additives, and a proposal to halt the lifting of that ban was rejected in a referendum in December last year. This result reflected opinions that emphasized Taiwan’s relations with the United States, which seems to have had an impact on the administration in its handling of the ban on Japanese food this time.

In September last year, Taiwan applied to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement. The decision to lift the ban on Japanese food may be aimed at gaining support from Japan in this regard.

The Japanese government aims to increase exports of Japan’s agricultural, forestry and fishery products and foods to ¥5 trillion by 2030. Taiwan is the fourth-largest destination for Japanese exports. It is hoped that the Japanese government will make efforts to link the lifting of the ban to the expansion of Japan’s exports.

However, Taiwan said it will continue to suspend imports of some items, such as mushrooms and wild game, and it will require food from the five prefectures to be accompanied by reports on inspections for radioactive substances. It is regrettable that restrictions with little foundation remain.

In the aftermath of the nuclear accident, restrictions were introduced in up to 55 countries and regions, but they have been eased year by year. However, restrictions remain in place to varying degrees in a total of 14 countries and regions, including the European Union and Taiwan. China, South Korea, Hong Kong and Macau continue to suspend imports.

The Japanese government should step up its efforts to have the bans lifted based on scientific evidence.

Meanwhile, however, five former Japanese prime ministers, including Junichiro Koizumi and Naoto Kan, reportedly sent a letter to the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, in their joint names, saying that many children are suffering from thyroid cancer after the nuclear accident. This statement is a serious problem.

The European Commission has identified nuclear power as an energy source that can help decarbonization. The letter was intended to oppose such a move by Europe. But expert panels of Fukushima Prefecture and the United Nations have said it is unlikely that thyroid cancer cases have resulted from the effects of radiation.

The letter could promote prejudice, and its signers should be aware of their position and responsibility as former prime ministers. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida must take a resolute stance to ask them to correct the mistakes. He must provide accurate information to the international community to prevent harmful rumors about Japanese food.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 17, 2022.