Repeal Provides Tailwind for Exports of Japan’s Agricultural, Marine Products

The European Union has announced that it will completely abolish its import restrictions on Japanese food products. This is good news for Fukushima Prefecture and other areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. The safety of Japanese food products should be further emphasized.

The EU has put restrictions on imports of Japanese food products since 2011 in response to the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Although the restrictions have been eased in stages, the EU still requires that some food products from a total of 10 prefectures, including fish and wild mushrooms from Fukushima Prefecture, be accompanied by a certificate of inspection for radioactive materials.

Some products from other prefectures are also required to have similar certificates, and it is also required that certificates indicating that the goods were produced outside the 10 prefectures be submitted.

Such procedures will no longer be necessary from Aug. 3.

Decisions made by the EU, whose 27 member countries include Germany and France, have a great influence on the world. The EU’s latest decision is welcome.

The Japanese government has set a goal of increasing exports of agricultural, forestry and fishery products and foodstuffs to ¥5 trillion by 2030. Last year, those exports reached a record high of over ¥1.4 trillion. Of that amount, about 5%, or ¥68 billion, was destined for the EU, leaving room for expansion.

It is important to link the EU’s move to a steady increase in exports.

Immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake, 54 countries and regions restricted imports of Japanese food products. However, international understanding is growing as a result of Japan’s thorough safety inspections and its efforts in appealing to countries by stressing scientific evidence. The United States dropped its import restrictions in 2021, and Britain did so last year.

However, restrictions remain in place in South Korea, China, Taiwan, Russia and elsewhere. Further persuasion is essential.

The Japanese government plans to discharge into the ocean treated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant sometime this summer. The International Atomic Energy Agency has issued a comprehensive report acknowledging the plan’s validity.

It can be said that the EU’s latest judgment constitutes an “endorsement” of the safety of Japanese products. This will likely help in gaining the world’s understanding of the release of the treated water.

Regarding the discharge, the government and TEPCO must take all possible measures to ensure that confidence will not be shaken by equipment malfunctions or careless mistakes. Thorough monitoring and transparent dissemination of information are required.

One concern is the response of the Hong Kong government. It has announced that it will halt imports of marine products from Tokyo and nine prefectures, including Fukushima and Miyagi, if the treated water is discharged into the ocean.

This is in line with China, which has expressed opposition to the discharge, but there is little scientific basis for China’s claims. Japan must strongly urge the Hong Kong government to retract its policy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 15, 2023)