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Kobe producers welcome EU recognition, but warn of limited supplies

Post a commentBy Kathryn Wortley , 30-Aug-2017

Restrictions on how names such as Kobe are used could be implemented
Restrictions on how names such as Kobe are used could be implemented

Beef producers in the European Union (EU) could face restrictions on using famous beef names such as Kobe and Tajima to market their home-grown beef once an agreed-in-principle EU-Japan free trade agreement is implemented. 

The restrictions would come through reciprocally agreed rules within the deal to protect both jurisdictions’ registered geographical indication (GI) products.

As part of the agreement negotiations, in July, Japan gave the European Commission a list of 39 GI products it wanted protected in EU markets from producers using their names, when they are not established their historic region within Japan, and do not use traditional production techniques.

Among the products are Kobe beef and Tajima beef, which enjoy recognition worldwide for top-class flavour and a high level of marbling. Meanwhile, the EU has submitted its own list to Japan, which includes Prosciutto Toscano and Jambon d’Ardenne.

The move follows Japan’s creation of a GI system for its own domestic market, launched by its ministry of agriculture, forestry and fisheries in 2015. It is designed to boost sales of products that “have obtained high quality and reputation as a result of unique production methods and natural characteristics such as regional climate and soil conditions” and prevent cheaper, lower-quality products with the same or similar name from being sold. However, as the system applies only to Japan, some beef producers in other countries that rear cattle with a Kobe or Tajima pedigree use those names in their marketing.

Yoshihisa Kawamoto, spokesperson of Kobe Beef Tourist Association, expressed concern that the value of Kobe beef is being undermined because non-Kobe beef is being recognised as Kobe beef overseas. He welcomed the reciprocal agreement but said any increase in demand for Japan-produced Kobe beef would have an impact at home.

“Because of the low number of Tajima and Kobe beef cattle, domestic prices will go up as export volume increases, resulting in an impact on domestic customers,” he said.

Hiroto Ishizaki, spokesperson of the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations’ Hyogo branch and Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association, agreed.

“The agreement is a good opportunity to have real Kobe beef recognised but it may become more difficult to export due to the production number and domestic market price of Kobe beef,” he said.

Nonetheless, Kawamoto called for further protection of the products.

“The government is beginning to emphasise the promotion of wagyu, and it now makes a broad interpretation in certifying GI products. Tajima beef and Kobe beef need to meet very strict criteria for pedigree, meat quality and so on, and should be distinguished from other wagyu,” he said. “We understand that the government wants to promote wagyu but we hope the GI certification will be acknowledged in a way that does not impair the value of Tajima beef and Kobe beef.”

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