Mackerel exporters in Japan regaining access to some markets

A relaxing of some trade bans on Japanese seafood will be a welcome sight to mackerel exporters looking to get back into Russian and possibly Taiwanese markets, but bans cutting exporters off from the lucrative South Korean market remain in place.

The Russian federal veterinary and phytosanitary agency (Rosselkhoznadzor) announced on 22 July that 23 fish processing establishments in Aomori Prefecture will now be allowed to ship their products to Russia. A ban on seafood imports from eight Japanese prefectures was imposed in April 2011 over radiation concerns and will remain in place for the other seven: Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Chiba, Niigata and Yamagata. Russia made the decision to exclude Aomori based on preliminary results of a study carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in February.

In 2010, the year before the quake, tsunami and nuclear accident, Aomori exported approximately 450 metric tons (MT) of frozen fish to Russia, according to a survey of producers. This declined to just 72 MT in 2011, and thereafter to zero, as exports were halted that year following the 11 March disaster.

Mackerel, in frozen blocks and chilled pickled form, was the previously largest item by volume. In data from 2006 and 2007, the highest annual volume of mackerel was 1,000 MT. Norway is a world leader in mackerel exports, but as Russia currently maintains a retaliatory ban on Norwegian seafood, Iceland and the Faroe Islands have been increasing their mackerel exports there. Aomori can now be an additional source for Russia.

One exporter in the prefecture reported making three shipments of 400 cartons of 2.1kg of frozen mackerel fillets to Russia in the year prior to the disaster. Another said that Russian importers had also expressed interest in Pacific saury pre-quake, but that those discussions would have to start again from scratch. Most of the processors handle exports through trading companies rather than directly.

Worldwide, Russia is a major market for pelagic fish, but for Aomori processers, this trade pales in comparison with the more profitable scallops, which are currently exported to the United States, Canada, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Expanding that trade, as well as trade in cod, to South Korea would be more significant than the recent relaxing of the Russian ban.

Takashi Oku, Director of the Aomori Information Center of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) said his hope is that Russia lifting its ban on Aomori seafood will lead South Korea to follow suit, based on the IAEA data. (South Korea had noted contradictory data from the Japanese government as a reason for its ban.)

South Korea currently bans all fishery imports from a different set of eight prefectures near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant: Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Chiba, Gunma, Tochigi and Aomori. Annual imports of Japanese seafood by South Korea averaged USD 96 million (EUR 86.8 mil.) from 2012 to 2014; less than half the average of USD 213 million (EUR 192.6 mil.) for the 2006 to 2010 pre-disaster period. Cod and scallops were previously Aomori’s major exports to South Korea. Japan has asked South Korea to remove the ban through negotiations at the World Trade Organization, but as little progress has been made, it will submit the matter to the body’s dispute settlement process.

Taiwan has hinted that it will allow imports of certain food products from Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures, which have been banned since the disaster, but will maintain a ban on products from Fukushima Prefecture. However, this has not yet been formally announced. The government plans to continue prefecture of origin labeling, which would help consumers discriminate against products from those prefectures even after their importation is resumed.

The Aomori Prefecture processing establishments newly approved by Russia are K. Fukushima Shoten and Okamura Foods Co., Ltd. located in Aomori City; and the following in Hachinohe City: Maruyo Suisan Co., Ltd.; Marujuh Ube Shoten Co., Ltd. (2 locations); Hachinohe-Shi Suisan Kakogyo Kyodo Kumiai; Marutake Hachinohe Suisan Co., Ltd.; Takewa Suisan Co., Ltd.; Seiho Shoji Kaisha, Ltd.; Yamayo Co., Ltd. (3 locations); Maruto Reizo Co., Ltd.; Sakaki Ryuzoh Shoten Co., Ltd.; Marunushi Co., Ltd. No. 4 Freezing Cold Storage; De-Mer Co.,Ltd.; Hachinohe Kyowa Suisan Co., Ltd.; Sansei Co., Ltd. Shirogane Plant; Hachican Co. Ltd. (2-locations); S.D. Hachikan Co., Ltd. and Hachinohe Foods Co., Ltd.


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