The European Union’s (EU) meat industry federation believes a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) with Japan, whose talks were authorised last week (Thursday), could safeguard and could even increase Europe’s share of the Japanese pork market.
Jean-Luc Mériaux, secretary general of the European Livestock and Meat Trading Union (UECBV) noted that, at present, Japan is the EU’s fourth-largest market by volume for pork, though second in value because of the sale of high-quality products in that country. Eurostat trade data said Japan bought 172,049 tonnes of pigmeat from the EU from January to September 2012, 7.4% of total EU pigmeat exports. Also, international trade datasets say the EU exported US$33m-worth of dried, salted and smoked pigmeat to Japan in 2011,and US$1.4m-worth of pig fat.
“We are one of the main advocates of the FTA and our members have unanimously supported it from the start,” said Mériaux. One of the main benefits of the agreement could be stronger convergence of EU and Japanese phytosanitary standards, he said. In fact this was already happening: as a consequence of the pre-negotiations for the FTA, the Japanese authorities were reviewing their restrictions on beef shipments and “thanks to that the EU is now expected to begin exporting beef to Japan next year”.
In any case, the EU has a healthy trade to Japan of meat products, with international trade data saying US$1.06bn-worth of meat and edible offal was exported to Japan from the EU in 2011. That was up from US$1.04bn in 2010. More specifically, sausages and sausage-based products worth US$16.1m were sold by the EU to Japan in 2011, and US$16.6m in 2010.
In announcing the start of negotiations, the European Commission said it had set “a very ambitious agenda covering all EU market access priorities”. It said Japan had accepted specific ‘roadmaps’ for the removal of non-tariff barriers during the talks, and the EU can walk away if Japan has not produced satisfactory assurance on non-tariff barriers within a year. Talks could easily continue for two years and a deal be implemented at least one year after that.
Japan’s meat industry has reacted with caution to the announcement. Koji Chikada, a spokesman for the Japan Livestock Industry Association, said any deal could very well benefit Japanese farmers, but that it was “a bit too early to say precisely how this is going to help”.
“Right now, our biggest concern is over regulations on BSE,” he said. “We want to get that sorted out first and then our industry can look at the FTA and what that might mean to us.” Japan has filed a request with the World Organisation for Animal Health for Japanese beef to be confirmed as having “negligible risk” of the disease.
The next meeting of the organisation has been scheduled for May and there are high hopes that a positive decision will hasten the appearance of prime cuts of Japanese meat – including sought-after Wagyu and Kobe beef – could be exported once again, and hence benefit from an FTA.
A spokesman for Japan’s ministry of agriculture, forestry and fisheries said officials were examining the scope of the potential agreement before taking further steps or releasing a policy statement.