TOKYO -- Japan hopes to boost exports of its unique strawberry varieties, with Australia planning to lift its ban on the fruit as early as 2019.
Australia does not allow imports of Japanese strawberries out of concern over pests. Both sides are working to complete quarantine criteria in the next one to two years.
Japan's fruit exports totaled 26.9 billion yen ($238 million) in 2016. Strawberries constituted a little over 1.1 billion yen, or 4% -- up more than 30% compared with 2015. Strawberry exports for the January-October period have already topped those for all of 2016.
Japanese strawberries are sweeter than American and European varieties. The government hopes that strawberries will promote the made-in-Japan brand, whose popularity will improve should Australia open up its market. Most of Japan's strawberry exports now go to Hong Kong.
Countries are aggressively competing to export foodstuffs. Australia is expected to lift its ban on South Korean strawberry imports in the first half of 2018. Seoul has already provided Canberra with data to set quarantine criteria.
South Korea exports strawberries cross-bred with such Japanese varieties as Tochigi Prefecture's Tochiotome to greater Asia, according to Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. This will cost Japan as much as 22 billion yen over five years, by the ministry's estimate. Japan would take a hit if South Korea were to grab a large share of the Australian market.
Canberra is also making final preparations to allow Japanese beef back in as early as the first half of 2018. The meat was banned in 2001 over mad cow disease. Japan's overall beef exports jumped 42% on the year for the January-October period, thanks to the popularity of wagyu. Taiwan opened up its market to Japanese beef in September, and Malaysia in November. Expectations are high for the end of the Australian restriction.
The presence of Australian-raised wagyu has increased in Taiwan, which lifted an import ban on Japanese beef in September, and elsewhere. Raising the visibility of Japanese agriculture products has become an urgent task, along with intellectual property protection.
Australia and Japan put an economic partnership agreement into force in 2015, and both want the U.S. to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Canberra's decision to allow imports of more Japanese agricultural products is also seen as applying pressure on Washington by expanding trade.