Tag Archives: Japan

Japan’s hog cholera epidemic spread further with a sixth case identified Tuesday in the central part of the country, leading to the first dispatch of Ground Self-Defense Force troops and the launch of a crisis control unit by the central government.

After tests confirmed the latest case of the contagious disease that has a high fatality rate at a pig farm in Seki, Gifu Prefecture, the local government began culling 7,547 pigs there. About 1,600 GSDF troops dispatched at the request of Gifu Gov. Hajime Furuta will bury the culled pigs.

Hog cholera was detected at a farm in the city of Gifu in September for the first time since 1992 and has been found in wild boars in both Gifu and neighboring Aichi prefectures. It does not affect humans even if an infected animal is consumed.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the central and local governments “have been making all-out efforts to prevent the infections from spreading.”

Three farms with a total of 1,800 pigs located within 10 kilometers of the affected farm in Seki were banned from shipping their hogs. Meat processing facilities in the city also halted operations.

At the farm hit by the latest outbreak, Gifu government officials in white protective gear were seen digging holes for the burying of carcasses and disinfecting themselves around pig pens.

A pig showing signs of infection was found in a test prior to shipment Sunday at the farm and the animal and another one tested positive on Tuesday, according to the Gifu government.

In Gifu, which kept around 106,000 pigs at 40 farms and research institutions as of Feb. 1 this year, a series of hog cholera infections have been reported including at public facilities.

“We don’t know what to do before the cause of the outbreak is specified,” a member of a local pig farmers’ association said.

The Gifu prefectural assembly has adopted a statement calling on the central government to study vaccinating hogs against the disease. But the farm ministry remains reluctant because it would affect the country’s pork exports.

The association member urged the ministry to change its stance, saying local pig farmers are “strongly demanding” vaccination.

As wild boars are suspected to be the source of infection, Masuo Sueyoshi, head of the University of Miyazaki’s Division of Prevention and Control for Animal Diseases, said control of such animals should be tightened.

“In addition to trapping, steps should be taken such as placing food containing vaccines along trails” frequented by wild boars, he said.

Prior to the latest outbreak, Japan had only seen hog cholera in 1992 and declared the virus eradicated in 2007.

An increasing number of foreign visitors are taking part in farm-stay programs in Japan to get a taste of typical country life in areas without any particular sightseeing spots.

The popularity of stays in traditional farming villages, which has helped attract some overseas travelers away from big cities such as Tokyo, is expected to help revitalize local communities amid the growing overall number of visitors to Japan.

The annual number of foreign travelers to Japan has already reached the 30 million milestone for the first time in 2018 and the country aims to welcome 40 million foreign visitors by 2020.

In late October, when tree leaves began to take on autumnal colors, two workers for Chinese travel magazines were having fun harvesting vegetables such as carrots and green peppers at a farm in the Takeshi district of Ueda, Nagano Prefecture.

At night, they enjoyed eating tempura made from the vegetables they had picked earlier in the day, and sat up late playing “hanafuda” card games and enjoying other Japanese traditional pastimes at the farmhouse.

“We had a good time chatting with farmers, something that we can’t enjoy at ordinary sightseeing places,” said Jin Qiyang, 34, one of the two Chinese visitors.

“Chinese people are curious to understand Japanese culture deeply. I suppose there is a strong demand for farm stays,” Jin added. The two were invited to the area by the Japanese government, Nagano prefectural government and a local tourism promotion body.

Tranquil mountainous farming communities like the Takeshi district, about 150 kilometers northwest of central Tokyo, or about a three-hour drive, can be found across the country.

“At first, it never crossed my mind that so many people would come here all the way from other countries,” said Ichiro Kobayashi, 67, president of Shinshu Seishun-mura, a local firm operating farm-stay programs in Takeshi.

The company has accepted Japanese students on school trips at contracted farmhouses in the area since 2002 and foreign tourists since 2005. The number of overseas guests has been on the rise, hitting 2,322 and accounting for about 40 percent of total visitors in 2016.

Charging 8,000 yen ($71) per person per night with dinner and breakfast included, overseas travelers from 20 countries and territories such as China, Taiwan and Australia have joined the company’s programs.

According to a survey on farm stays in Japan by Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting Co. conducted in December last year, 66.2 percent of 71 program operators that responded to a question about foreign visitors said their number is “on the upward trend.”

By contrast, 43.3 percent of 104 respondents to a question about Japanese participants said their number “remains flat.”

Municipalities in other prefectures are also attracting many foreign tourists with their farm-stay programs.

In the town of Minakami in Gunma Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo, visitors can try planting and reaping rice and kneading dough to make “udon” wheat flour and “soba” buckwheat noodles, with 195 ordinary households accommodating them as of 2016.

Some farmers of mandarin oranges, one of the specialty products of Tanabe in the western Japan prefecture of Wakayama Prefecture, are trying to attract visitors with a fruit-picking program.

“It’s important for business operators to offer services and items that cater to what the overseas visitors want,” said Kazunobu Tsutsui, a Tottori University professor studying farm tourism for foreign tourists.

“It would be hard to keep the tourism industry running unless the agricultural business itself remains commercially sustainable. Amid a decline of farmers (due to aging), it will be vital to secure successors through the migration of younger generations” to farming communities, Tsutsui added.

The European Union parliament this week approved the EU-Japan trade agreement. The agreement removes tariffs on 97 percent of European exports, with agriculture exports seeing significant tariff reductions. The pact will enter into force Feb. 1, 2019. In addition, the 11 nation CPTPP regional trade agreement will come into effect on December 30 with a second round of tariff cuts coming again on April 1, 2019. In 2016, Japanese consumers purchased almost $1.6 billion of U.S. pork products. With the CPTPP deal and the EU-Japan trade pact in place, U.S. pork is at risk of losing market share in one its largest export markets. NPPC continues to urge the Trump administration to expeditiously negotiate a trade agreement with Japan to avoid market share loss.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Kevin Kester urged the Trump Administration to move quickly to tear down trade barriers for U.S. beef in Japan. Speaking at a public hearing on the potential economic impact of a U.S.-Japan bilateral trade agreement, Kester noted that reducing tariff and non-tariff trade barriers would benefit Japanese consumers and U.S. cattle producers. Japan is the top export market for U.S. beef, accounting for nearly $2 billion in sales in 2017. However, U.S. beef exports face tariffs as high as 50 percent under some circumstances.

“NCBA strongly supports prioritizing and expediting negotiations for a U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement,” Kester said in his comments. “The U.S. beef industry is at risk of losing significant market share in Japan unless immediate action is taken to level the playing field.”

A number of key U.S. competitors have negotiated agreements that provide their producers with preferential access to the Japanese market. For example, under the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Australian beef exporters will enjoy a tariff reduction of 27.5 percent in the first year of the agreement for fresh and frozen products. In most cases, the countries who are part of CPTPP will see their tariff rates for beef exports decline to 9 percent over the next 15 years. In addition to CPTPP, Japan is moving ahead with a trade agreement that will give European Union beef producers similar terms to those negotiated in CPTPP.

“NCBA supported the negotiated compromise under Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) because it reduced the massive tariff applied to U.S. beef, diminished the likelihood of triggering snap back tariffs, and established strong, objective, and predictable sanitary and phytosanitary standards and other rules-based trade standards,” Kester added. “We expect nothing less under a U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement.”

America’s dairy farmers are urging President Trump to work on opening up the Japanese market as soon as possible. Officials are getting ready to begin trade talks between the two countries next month.

The National Milk Producers Federation was one of four groups that gave testimony at the U.S. International Trade Commission hearing on the potential trade pact. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative will also hold a hearing on  Monday about the possible agreement with Japan. U.S. dairy exports to Japan could grow by 450 percent if American farmers had full access to the country’s market.

It would also raise dairy farmers’ income by up to $12 billion over the next decade. However, Politico says there might be a problem with that idea. President Trump has already agreed not to press the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe to expand access to Japan’s ag markets when they agreed back in September to start talks aimed at establishing a bilateral agreement between the nations.

The U.S. dairy industry pushed President Donald Trump’s administration on Thursday to ensure increased access to the Japanese market, saying the United States lags behind other farming nations that have tariff-cutting agreements with Japan.

In a hearing on bilateral trade negotiations that Washington and Tokyo are set to start as early as in mid-January, a labor union representing American automobile manufacturing employees meanwhile urged the administration to maintain U.S. tariffs on Japanese cars, parts and trucks to curb increases in imports.

Speaking at the United States International Trade Commission hearing, Jaime Castaneda, senior vice president of trade policy at the U.S. Dairy Export Council and the National Milk Producers Federation, said upcoming talks for a bilateral trade agreement should achieve “a high level of market access” in Japan.

Castaneda said that in terms of access to the world’s third-largest economy, the United States is behind Australia — which already has a bilateral free trade agreement with Japan — as well as the 11 members of a Pacific FTA and the European Union, a 28-nation bloc that has signed an FTA with Japan.

“America is already behind and we ask the administration to act soon,” he said.

In a written testimony, the council and federation effectively pushed Japan to reduce tariffs on dairy products beyond levels agreed to under the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 11-nation FTA that will enter into force on Dec. 30, and the Japan-EU FTA.

The organizations urged the administration to use the trade talks with Japan to secure “a better outcome” than that contained in the CPTPP or in the Japan-EU FTA “for each tariff line.”

Japan and the European Union are speeding up domestic procedures for the early enforcement of their FTA.

“Japan’s market for imported dairy products is tightly restricted in most product areas,” the testimony said. “In addition to tariffs, Japan maintains a complex quota system for several of its dairy products which it uses to allocate its in-quota quantities according to designated uses.”

Josh Nassar, legislative director for the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America International Union — also known as the United Automobile Workers, or UAW — accused Japan of having a “closed market” for American automobiles.

The United States should maintain tariffs on Japanese cars, parts and trucks “until their market is truly open to actually see big increases in allowing imports,” he said.

While acknowledging Japan imposes no tariffs on foreign cars, Nassar argued the Japanese government has set up “a web of closed systems” such as dealerships that make it difficult for foreign automakers to have successful sales in Japan.

Nassar also claimed Japan has not been hesitant about manipulating its currency to give its exports an unfair trade advantage.

Aside from Thursday’s hearing, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is scheduled to hold a separate hearing for industries on Monday regarding bilateral trade agreement talks with Japan.

On Nov. 28, the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) launched U.S. lamb’s return to the Japanese market with an educational seminar and tasting event that drew more than 200 chefs, importers, purveyors, trade media and other key food industry professionals to The Strings hotel in Tokyo.

Following the detection of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the United States in December 2003, Japan was closed to U.S. lamb for nearly 15 years before reopening in July of this year. The USMEF event was designed to showcase the unique flavor profile and other positive attributes of U.S. lamb, introduce menu concepts featuring a variety of lamb cuts and connect suppliers with prospective customers.

“The turnout at the seminar was extremely impressive, and the enthusiasm was even more so,” said Greg Ahart, vice president of sales for Superior Farms. Ahart also serves on the American Lamb Board and the USMEF Executive Committee. “After a 15-year absence from the marketplace, seeing the amount of excitement and interest that was present in the room – both from the educational side, as well as when we proceeded to the presentation of products and the tasting – this event was truly something to be part of. I was completely blown away by the volume and genuineness of the interest expressed.”

USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom said U.S. lamb now has a long-awaited opportunity to capitalize on Japan’s strong demand for high-quality red meat products.

“The seminar and tasting confirmed that there is a lot of enthusiasm for the reentry of U.S. lamb into Japan,” Halstrom said. “We are in the midst of a ‘niku boom’ (meat boom) in Japan and there are many developing and emerging concepts, especially in the foodservice sector, for which high-quality U.S. lamb is a natural option.”

Ahart noted that the strong reputation and following U.S. pork and beef have established in Japan will provide positive momentum for U.S. lamb.

“The credibility that U.S. pork and beef have in this marketplace is very beneficial as we look at reintroducing lamb,” he explained. “Some of the more senior buyers in Japan have experience with U.S. lamb from before the market closure. But for the younger crowd at this event, which doesn’t have that historical knowledge, the reputation of the other two high-quality proteins really helps generate interest in American lamb.”

USMEF-Japan Director Takemichi Yamashoji also emphasized the need to attract younger customers, who will be a major focus of future USMEF tastings and promotions.

“There is an entire generation of Japanese consumers who have not tasted U.S. lamb,” he said. “USMEF wants to reach younger Japanese consumers and make them regular customers, so that U.S. lamb will be top-of-mind when they go out for fine dining.”

In addition to dishes that will be featured at high-end hotels and restaurants, Ahart added that the seminar was also an excellent venue for showcasing other lamb cuts that could gain traction in Japan.

“Lamb shanks and Denver ribs, which are comparable to short ribs, are examples of items that will have some applicability and interest in Japan as we build on the enthusiasm from the seminar,” Ahart said.

Japan’s imports of lamb and sheep meat are trending higher. Through October, imports in 2018 totaled 21,151 metric tons (up 11 percent from a year ago) valued at $171.2 million (up 20 percent and already a full-year record). Australian lamb currently holds about 60 percent market share, with New Zealand lamb capturing nearly 40 percent. Lamb and sheep meat enter Japan at zero duty.