Japan agricultural export target in doubt

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - It is uncertain whether the government will be able to realise its target of exporting Yen1 trillion  worth of agricultural, forestry and fishery products in 2019, due to sluggish growth in exports of these goods.

It is uncertain whether the government will be able to realize its target of exporting ¥1 trillion worth of agricultural, forestry and fishery products in 2019, due to sluggish growth in exports of these goods.

Additional measures are needed to meet the goal, including more government support and companies opening new markets.

In September last year, a shop selling Japanese agricultural products opened at Singapore’s Changi Airport. The National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (Zen-Noh) provides local specialties from around Japan for the shop, with marbled wagyu beef, apples, sake and other items seen on the shelves.

The most popular items are bento lunch boxes packed with a variety of Japanese foodstuffs. “A bento box is filled with meat, fish and fresh vegetables. I also love it because it’s healthy,” said an airport staffer who shops there several times a month.

High-quality, delicious Japanese agricultural products are popular in Asia. Japanese restaurants have opened one after another, with 2,774 Japanese eateries now in operation in Thailand. Such strong demand for washoku Japanese cuisine has boosted exports, which reached a value of ¥807.3 billion in 2017, a record high for the fifth consecutive year. 

However, the growth rate was 7.6 percent from the previous year, and it appears difficult to raise the figure to ¥1 trillion in 2019.

The export value of Japanese agricultural products, excluding fishery and forestry products, is overwhelmingly less than other major countries — about one-fiftieth of that of the United States, for example, and about one-thirtieth of that of the Netherlands. The ratio of export value to the overall value of domestic agricultural products is only about 2 percent.

In addition, export destinations are predominantly in Asia, such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, which accounts for three-quarters of all exports. It is urgent to find new markets in Europe, the United States and the Middle East, among other places.

To expand exports, the government will introduce new subsidies from fiscal 2018 to the areas producing rice for export, providing ¥20,000 per 10 ares. The Japan Food Product Overseas Promotion Center (JFOODO), established by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), has started promoting foodstuffs including wagyu beef, green tea and rice flour to Taiwan, the United States and other places to stimulate demand and develop new markets. 

It also provides serving ideas for shabu-shabu — a hot pot with thinly sliced beef — and other dishes, hoping to expand wagyu beef exports.

Japanese food businesses are adjusting their sales strategies as well. Sapporo-based Nishiyama Seimen Co. makes alcohol-free, pork-free soup and noodles for Muslims, to expand its market to the Middle East.

In 2014, the company was given permission to sell its ramen noodles in the United Arab Emirates and has provided its products to restaurants there.

Chizu Hori, senior research officer of Mizuho Research Institute Ltd., said, “In order to expand exports, it’s necessary to come up with products and price settings that meet the needs of customers overseas.”