The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has discovered through recent investigation that numerous counterfeit Japanese food products of well-known brands are sold overseas, including Yubari melons made in Thailand and Kobe beef made in Australia.
Because such false use of geographical indications can hamper exports of Japanese food products, the ministry is stepping up efforts to sign mutual GI protection agreements with foreign governments so that they can crack down on them abroad.
In its first attempt to grasp the situation, between September and November last year the ministry searched in major online shopping sites worldwide for 14 major products registered and publicly announced as GIs in Japan. In addition to Thai-made Yubari melons and Australian-made Kobe beef, the ministry found such products as Chinese-made Yubari melons labeled as products of Shizuoka Prefecture and Chinese-made matcha green tea powder sold as the product of Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture.
As for Thai-made Yubari melons, the authorities of Yubari, Hokkaido, have warned the Thai producer to stop labeling them Yubari and the producer followed the order. The producing firm had been claiming that it was importing seedlings from Japan, but failed to prove it. The melons had been widely marketed in Thailand and were also exported to India.
Aside from GI products, the ministry found Hong Kong-made noodles labeled as Hokkaido noodles and Taiwan-made miso paste labeled as Shinshu miso, a brand which can be used only for miso produced by authorized makers in Nagano Prefecture.
Producers of brand food products are taking countermeasures by applying to register a trademark in such countries as China, but a producer of branded beef said it takes time to get registered.
Currently, 28 food products are registered as GIs in Japan, and if the Japanese government signs an agreement with a foreign government, the GIs will be protected in that country as well.