Japanese food exports continue to face severe challenges as China’s import restrictions persist, exacerbated by Japan’s recent release of treated water from the damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean.
China implemented a comprehensive ban on Japanese marine products on August 24, immediately following Japan’s commencement of the treated water discharge, which contains trace amounts of radioactive tritium.
According to data from the Japanese Ministry of Finance, Japan’s food exports to China plummeted by 41.2% in August compared to the previous year. However, the full extent of the ban’s impact is still unfolding.
China, as the largest importer of Japanese agricultural and food products, is expected to impede Japan’s efforts to increase food exports.
In response, the Japanese government has increased aid to the fisheries industry by ¥20.7 billion to ¥100.7 billion to mitigate the impact of the water release and reduce the sector’s dependence on China.
Scallop exports have been particularly affected by Beijing’s ban, with more than half of them being destined for China in terms of value. Japanese scallops are often sent to China for shell removal before being exported to the United States.
To address this issue, the government plans to subsidize two-thirds of the costs for the introduction of shell removal equipment, allowing scallops to be delivered directly to the U.S.
However, fishery operators, grappling with excess scallop inventories and falling prices, have expressed concerns and dissatisfaction with the relief measures, accusing the government of acting too slowly.
Fisheries Minister Ichiro Miyashita pledged to expedite aid distribution, recognizing the urgency of the situation.
Notably, no tritium has been detected in samples of flatfish taken by the Fisheries Agency in waters off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, where the nuclear plant is located.
Japan has demanded that China lift the ban, which Tokyo contends lacks scientific justification, but it is unlikely that Beijing will do so in the near future.
“We will explore various options within the framework of the World Trade Organization,” Miyashita stated in an interview.
The Toyosu wholesale fish market in Tokyo is also grappling with challenges stemming from declining exports due to the ban. In addition to China’s blanket ban, Hong Kong has also suspended imports from ten Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima.
Many Toyosu wholesalers not only supply fresh fish to upscale sushi restaurants in Tokyo but also export to overseas markets, particularly Hong Kong. The losses are substantial since some fishery products were shipped to mainland China via Hong Kong.
The Chinese and Hong Kong restrictions have also had an impact on fishery product prices. Market prices for scallops from Hokkaido have dropped by 20% to 30% since the ban, while the prices of red bream from Chiba Prefecture, targeted in Hong Kong’s restrictions, have fallen by approximately 30%.
Despite these challenges, many Toyosu wholesalers have shown support for Fukushima’s fishery products. Since the treated water release, an increasing number of sushi restaurants have been purchasing fish from Fukushima, reflecting a growing sense of confidence in the prefecture’s Jо̄ban-mono brand, known for its high quality.