Saturday, June 29, 2013

At WTO, Japan Demands China, Hong Kong and Taiwan to Drop Their Food Import Bans after Fukushima Nuclear Accident Because "Any Contaminated Products Can Not Be Traded" in Japan

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.


Maju said...

I stopped eating (Japanese) noodles on March 2011. I try to eat everything as local as possible, as my area seems to be relatively free of radioactive pollution from Chernobyl and Fukushima. You really can't trust the authorities in this, much less the Japanese authorities, which are removing zeroes from all figures systematically and claim that "radiation is harmless".

Let's just hope that no French or Spanish reactor ka-booms any time soon, cross fingers. At the very least with the closure of Garoña NPP, all remaining active reactors are relatively far from where I live. The closest active ones (Garoña still has to be dismantled) are at Bordeaux (260 Km), Trillo (285 Km) and Agen (295 Km). I wonder if that's far enough.

sickputer said...

Probably more places than just those three are banning the Japanese products. Can't blame the places who choose not to accept foods that may be contaminated with radiation.

Bad news continues to flow out of Japan nearly on a daily basis about the Daiichi nuclear plant so can anyone really blame any country for a ban? And reports about contaminated freshwater fish is scary. If someone offers to sell you slices of fish from Japan, how can you easily tell if it is freshwater or fish from safer ocean areas? And ocean areas to the east of Japan are increasingly becoming suspect areas for safe seafood.

Japan officials want foreign entities to eat up their contaminated foods. Not everyone is going to accept the imports as easily as the wide open trading partner Uncle Sam. Americans on the many military bases in Japan are also chomping down on plenty of central Japanese crops. Ignorance is bliss I guess.

Anonymous said...

The Japanese limits are based on the assumption that 50% of nationally distributed foods are contaminated


There is no new scientific information that supports the need of a new risk assessment.

those little UN/trade meetings reveal much!! imo
nice find admin
posted to

Anonymous said...

Japan's and WTO's insistence on "scientific evidence" leaves me in stitches.

Anonymous said...


Why do wealthy Japanese investors buy so many U.S. Treasury bonds?

This is an honest question that I do not have the answer to.

If you do, please explain.

Vyse Legendaire said...

Japanese gov't will say and do anything to keep the charade going. They have no choice. It's a Faustian bargain but the alternative is probably...a mass die-off and the end of the industrial era.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

I have this bad feeling that it will all collapse at the same time - US bond market bubble (though this one has already collapsed significantly, particularly junk bonds), US stock market bubble, China's shadow banking bubble, Japan's two decade long JGB bubble.

Hikarius said...

It is the reality in Hong Kong: Despite the import ban, Japanese food is widely available in a number of stores - such as "Kyushu" Udon noodles which is actually made in Ibaraki. Hong Kong government is monitoring Japanese import as of today.

Hongkonger, many of them are big fans of Japan, keep on traveling in Japan, especially when Japanese Yen depreciated thanks to "Abenomics" (this name makes me feel sick). In their mind, it is as if radioactive contamination is only confined to the very area in Fukushima prefecture and Japanese food is safe "as the government said so".

I have been eating Japanese food sporadically since the Fukushima nuclear disaster - though it is less often than if I were in Japan. Actually it is a choice between the risks in radioactivity (in Japanese food products) and chemical pollution (in Chinese food products) since agriculture is a de-facto nonexistence in the city of Hong Kong (though ironically there is a legislator representing the "agricultural and fishery sector" in the legislative council, thanks to the absurdity of the election system here).

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Thanks, Hikarius, for the link. So Hong Kong uses Codex Alimentarius numbers of cesium 1000bq/kg (each) as "safe". That should make just about all foodstuff from Japan "safe".

What is Japan demanding, then? That Hong Kong stop testing, I suppose.

So the choice is to drink cesium-laced green tea from Japan (the numbers are rather high for my personal comfort) or pesticide-laced green tea from China?

Anonymous said...

HK has done 12 sample this month.. and with a total of 1567 samples since madch 2011.. :0

great post hikarius

Anonymous said...

I hope Japan's declining birth rate (and the increasing miscarriage rate and rate of infant death in USA states) will be all the science that is needed.

Anonymous said...

Japan should first check it's congenital malformations and spontaneous abortions and miscarriages since 2011.
And of course based on each pref!

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