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Economy

European cheese smells trade treaty opportunity in Japan

Imports jump 57% in April after tariffs go down

Japanese imports of European cheese are on the upswing as tariffs are reduced. (Photo by Wataru Ito)

TOKYO -- Japan's import of cheese for the month of April grew 34% on the year, in what is seen as the fruits of free-trade deals the country has signed in recent years.

Entering year two of the Japan- EU Economic Partnership Agreement, tariffs on popular European cheeses such as Camembert and cheddar dropped in April from 27.9% to 26.1%.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, meanwhile, has also spelled out a gradual removal of all tariffs on hard cheese, such as Gouda.

According to the latest trade statistics, Japanese imports of cheese in April totaled 33,858 tons. Imports from the European Union saw a significant bounce, rising 57% on the year to 13,555 tons.

On a country-by-country basis, Dutch cheese imports climbed 84% to 4,480 tons, while German cheese saw a 2.1-fold increase to 2,244 tons.

The popularity of cheese is growing in Japan, with total consumption already gaining 5% to 339,165 tons in 2017 even before the trade agreements took effect.

The April bounce in cheese imports may have implications for the U.S.-Japan trade talks. When officials sat down for talks in Washington on June 10-11, the U.S. side showed keen interest in the tariffs regarding wine and cheese imports under the Japan-EU agreement, sources said.

Under pressure from U.S. farmers, the American side looks to be vying for a similar tariff reduction to pave the way for more American cheese and wine to enter Japan.

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