Local Industry Has Begun to Go on the Offensive

|China

“In Beijing, Japanese nashi pears are apparently being sold for 2,000 yen each.” This is a line from an unscripted speech given by Prime Minister Koizumi in April last year.

Currently, many Japanese prefectures have begun to implement strategies in earnest, with the aim of supporting the export of local agricultural produce. Furthermore, in addition to the exports to Europe and the US that have taken place hitherto, the positioning of Asian markets as major export destinations shows how the times have changed.

“It just isn’t possible for Japanese agricultural produce, which is the most expensive in the world, to sell well in Asia, where prices are so cheap.” “This is surprising, given that even within Japan, various desserts and fast foods are reigning supreme and fruit is not selling well.” It is common sense for everyone to think this way. Countless reasons other than the high cost can be given why this should not be possible, including overseas transport costs, customs duty, quarantine, currency exchange, damage and loss.

However, as a result of actions by pioneering regions over the last three years, a succession of cases that overturn this common sense has emerged. Last autumn, Niigata Prefecture succeeded in exporting nashi and Western pears to Shanghai. The news that it was possible to export fresh agricultural produce to China, which presents many challenges for exporters, including customs clearance procedures and transport, is worthy of note. Moreover, the year before last, exports to Taiwan of apples from Aomori Prefecture and other areas were far in excess of 10,000 tons, which had the effect of raising domestic prices, and the disposable income of producers also apparently rose for the first time in over ten years. In addition, fruit and vegetables such as “Amaou” strawberries from Fukuoka, “20th century nashi” from Tottori, “healthy rice” from Shimane and “Nagaimo” Chinese yams from Tokachi, are being received well in such Asian markets as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Furthermore, with the easing of Japanese restrictions acting as a tailwind, exports of marine produce, such as fresh fish, to China began last year.

The factors in the background to such developments include the emergence in major cities in Asia of a wealthy class and affluent middle classes due to economic growth, a reduction in the price compared with Japan, and the popularity and establishment of Japanese food; however, one of the major triggers for this has been such epidemics as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and avian influenza. This is believed to be due to the fact that in Asian households, which often eat out, there has recently been a rise in cooking at home and problems such as pesticide residues have increased, so awareness of food safety and health has increased rapidly.

As is the case with cars and household electrical appliances, agricultural produce that bears the “made in Japan” tag is a luxury brand item in Asian markets. There will undoubtedly be an increase in the future in the number of Asian citizens who are “food-conscious”. Of course, there are many issues involved in exporting fresh produce to other countries, relating to transport and commercial distribution. Moreover, except for city states such as Hong Kong and Singapore, friction relating to the protection of domestic agriculture is inevitable. Even so, amidst the continued trend towards trade liberalization, such as FTAs (free trade agreements) and EPAs (economic partnership agreements), Japanese producers are feeling that it will become impossible to respond to the situation by maintaining a protectionist approach indefinitely, and some proactive local people are beginning to take action.

Niigata is a leading Japanese producer of many items other than nashi, including rice, sake and rice confectionery; in sporting terms, it is in the international league, like Ichiro Suzuki, Hidetoshi Nakata and Ai Fukuhara. In other words, it is involved in international matches in foreign markets. Moreover, the Western-style tableware produced in Tsubame and Sanjo was a model student, blazing a trail in terms of securing foreign currency in post-war Japan. Even traditional local industries are now being visited by the opportunity to conduct worldwide marketing of premium products that accumulate sophisticated technologies. Furthermore, close linkages are being forged with numerous regional development measures, including the upgrading of ports, airports and roads in order to attract foreign tourists and businesses, and build up distribution networks.

These recent projects aimed at the export of local products are not simply a case of seeking overseas markets because those products are not selling well domestically; rather, they essentially involve local people carving out new opportunities through their own efforts, rather than leaving it up to other people.

Keep up the good work, proactive local people!!!

 [Translated by ERINA]