Aggressively develop Japan’s farm industry into growth vehicle

Exports of Japan’s agricultural, forestry and fishery products and food are growing. It is vital to take advantage of the overseas boom in washoku Japanese cuisine to revitalize the nation’s agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries through an aggressive stance and strategy.

The revised law on facilitating the export of agricultural, forestry, and fishery products and food, which aims to help expand the exports of such products, was enacted in the recently ended ordinary Diet session.

So far, overseas market development has been conducted separately by local producers and sales businesses. Under the revised law, the central government will certify organizations that are engaged in export activities for different items to promote sales in an integrated manner.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has designated 28 priority items, including beef, rice and apples, which are popular overseas. The ministry will likely certify the organizations that are involved in the priority items. It is hoped that the organizations will make such efforts as market surveys and promotion activities in an integrated manner, thus effectively linking these efforts to an increase in exports.

Conventionally, Japan’s agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries grow products mainly for the domestic market and export the surplus. In November 2020, the government announced an export strategy to strengthen production for exports overseas.

“Agricultural protectionism” used to define the farm industry, protecting domestic farmers with tariffs on imported goods. It can be said that a shift is occurring, aiming for what is being called “aggressive agriculture” through exports.

Last year, exports of agricultural, forestry and fishery products and food exceeded ¥1 trillion for the first time, up more than 20% from the previous year. However, the share of total production volume is only around 2%, lower than that of other developed countries. Exports can still be significantly expanded.

The people who are involved in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries are aging. There is a need to make the industries attractive by raising the income of people engaged in the industries through exports.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised global concerns about food crises. Increasing the competitiveness of the industries and strengthening the production base are also significant in terms of Japan’s food security.

Protecting intellectual property rights is also essential to make a profit overseas. This is because there is no end to cases where seeds or seedlings of brand-name agricultural products developed in Japan are taken overseas without permission.

According to an estimate by the ministry, seedlings of the high-grade Shine Muscat grape variety have flowed into China, causing annual losses of more than ¥10 billion. In some cases, strawberry seeds and seedlings and Wagyu genes were taken out of the country.

Last year, the revised Plant Variety Protection and Seed Law went into effect, allowing the cultivation of registered varieties only in Japan. There are criminal penalties for violations. However, farmers and small and midsize companies dealing with seeds and seedlings lack management know-how.

In fiscal 2023, the ministry intends to establish an organization for experts to manage and protect intellectual property rights. It said the organization will be in charge of monitoring rights violations in Japan and abroad, among other roles. Thorough efforts must be made to prevent intellectual property rights from being taken abroad.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 14, 2022)