China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan continue to ban food import from Japan after the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident, and Japan doesn't like it. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged in his "growth strategy" that he wants to make Japanese agriculture "strong". One of the clear gauges of this "strength" is apparently how much agricultural products Japan can export, particularly from the nuclear-disaster-affected Tohoku and Kanto. So his government used a committee at the World Trade Organization to demand these three countries drop the bans.
Country-specific restrictions should be based on science, Japan and WTO say.
First, from Jiji Tsushin (6/29/2013):
In the meeting of the WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Committee that ended on June 28, the Japanese government demanded China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan to correct (revise) the import restrictions on Japanese agricultural products. The countries continue to place the import restrictions following the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident. The Japanese government had refrained from naming the countries, but used the opportunity to express strong concern as the import restrictions from these countries have been going on too long.
Regarding the food safety, in addition to the international sanitary and phytosanitary measures, countries are allowed to use their own judgment. In the latter case, the health risk evaluation based on scientific evidence would be necessary.
The WTO's meeting was in part to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Codex Alimentarius, a controversial collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines and other recommendations relating to foods, food production and food safety.
It is amusing for the Japanese to insist on scientific evidence at this point, but that's what they did at WTO.
From WTO's press release (6/28/2013; emphasis is mine):
WTO members celebrated the 50th anniversary of 186-member Codex Alimentarius, which sets international standards for food safety, by calling, on 27–28 June 2013, for continued support for the body, and for trade measures to be based on science.
The calls came in a two-day meeting of the WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Committee, which consists of all 159 WTO members and deals with food safety and animal and plant health — measures having an increasing impact on trade.
They echoed a paper circulated by Brazil (document G/SPS/GEN/1253), which described food safety as an important contributor to food security, and said international standards and guidelines should be based on science, that confidence in Codex and other international standards-setting bodies should be strengthened, and that any measures that apply higher standards should also be justified by science.
“The increase in the number of SPS measures that are not based on international standards, guidelines and recommendations, or that lack scientific justification, is a point of concern that has often been raised by many members in the SPS Committee and other contexts,” Brazil observed.
A political body like WTO insisting on science. Fantastic.
So, if people in the world don't want to eat food that contains more than normal amount of radioactive cesium, or don't want to eat genetically-modified food, both of which are supposedly proven "safe", what does WTO do? Force-feed them?
From the same press release, Japan's specific concern:
Import restrictions in response to Japan’s nuclear power plant accident.
Japan updated members on the latest situation and said radiation levels are generally within normal safety levels, and that any contaminated products could not be traded. Many trading partners have lifted their import restrictions, Japan said. However, restrictions remain in Hong Kong China and Chinese Taipei although Japan is starting to work with them on analysing the situation. China remains a major trading partner that still has import bans and Japan has not been able to discuss this bilaterally, Japan said. China said that only products from seriously polluted areas are affected.
Just by looking at the daily updates by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and periodic updates from municipal governments, not to mention citizens' groups, it is easy to note that food items being sold on the market in Japan continue to be found with radioactive cesium. The levels may be below 100 Bq/kg in most cases, but they are actively "traded", contrary to the Japanese government's claim.
I do not know what "normal safety levels" for the radiation levels in Japan at this point, but judging by the way the national government is trying to return the evacuees in the former "no-entry" evacuation zones, as long as the annual external radiation exposure is less than 20 millisieverts, it is safe. (More in later post.)
After the March 11, 2011 triple disaster, people in Taiwan collected and donated a large amount of money (second-largest, in fact, almost the same as the US, at 2.9 billion yen) to help people in the disaster affected Japan. China, in addition to monetary donation (920 million yen), offered the Putzmeister crane to be used at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. Hong Kong gave 700 million yen to Japan.
And Japan turns around and use the WTO to force them to drop the food bans. Not a way to treat generous neighbors.