TOKYO: Mainland China became the largest importer of Japanese food products for the first time last year, dethroning long-time leader Hong Kong.
Exports of food, farm, forestry and marine products to mainland China surged 35.2% to ¥222.4 billion (US$1.93 billion) in 2021, official data released Friday shows. Japanese sake, whisky and snack foods were among the most popular items.
The increase helped Japan attain its long-sought goal of ¥1 trillion in food exports. The country’s food, agriculture, fishery and timber industries generated ¥1.23 trillion from exports, up 25.6% for the ninth straight annual increase.
However, the trillion-yen milestone was reached two years after the original target date of 2019. The goal of attaining ¥5 trillion in food exports by the end of this decade remains a long way off.
Hong Kong fell to second, despite its food-related imports climbing 6% to ¥219 billion. The US took third at ¥168.3 billion, a 41.2% leap.
Exports of Japanese scallops soared 104% to ¥63.9 billion, the highest-growth product in absolute figures. Japanese beef also jumped 85.9% to ¥53.6 billion.
Whisky advanced by 70.2% to ¥46.1 billion. The wider name recognition of Japanese brands lifted unit prices, especially for China. Demand expanded from western markets as well.
Exports of Japanese-produced sea cucumbers, which are found in high-end cuisines, declined as the pandemic reduced such occasions. The category dove 14.4% to ¥15.5 billion. Exports of chicken meat sank 37.2% to ¥1.2 billion due to outbreaks of bird flu.
Japan seeks greater food exports to revitalise the agricultural industry, which faces a declining market at home due to the shrinking population. Food and farm exports occupy only 2% of Japan’s total domestic production by value.
By comparison, Britain’s food and farm exports take up 18% of domestic production while the US share is 12%.
To date, 14 nations and territories still maintain restrictions on Japanese exports imposed in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. China bans food products from nine Japanese prefectures.
Last year, the US and Singapore abolished their import restrictions on Japanese foods. Hong Kong and the European Union relaxed part of their controls in response to ongoing negotiations with Tokyo.
“The government will act in concert to push importing nations to lift restrictions,” Genjiro Kaneko, Japan’s agriculture minister, told a press conference Friday.
The export goals are expected to get a boost from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the first free trade agreement to involve Japan, China and South Korea. The 15-member RCEP went into effect last month.