【News】Wall Street Journal article calling on Japan to import more potatoes creates a stir (May 15, 2017)

Amid the recent shortage of potatoes used to produce potato chips in Japan, a Wall Street Journal article has caused a stir by calling on the nation to increase its imports of potatoes.

Japan’s imports of potatoes are controlled by quarantine inspections, but an opinion piece published by the major U.S. newspaper in late April criticized the phytosanitary issues as “unjustified import restrictions.”

Some are concerned that such criticisms could lead to stronger pressure by the U.S. government on Japan to relax quarantine measures in the future bilateral economic dialogue.

The article titled “Japan’s Potato Panic” says Japan’s quarantine procedure taken to prevent entry of harmful pests “was part of a wave of protectionism based on spurious claims.” It attributes Japan’s failure to increase imports of American potatoes to “agricultural lobby, which has largely succeeded in keeping out the fresh potatoes needed to make fried chips.”

It claims such “special treatment procedures” have worked as nontariff barriers which kept U.S. sales in Japan at a low level, and calls for expanded access to Japan’s market for a broad range of agricultural products.

Agriculture minister Yuji Yamamoto rebutted the claims at a regular news conference on May 12, saying Japan does not support the argument which defines quarantine procedures as nontariff barriers. “Making strict quarantine arrangements leads to assuring food safety and relieving producers from concerns over future risks,” Yamamoto stressed.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Japan bans imports of potatoes from countries where white potato cyst nematodes were found, in order to prevent negative effects on domestic production. In 2006, the government partially lifted the import ban for potatoes from the U.S. under the condition that the product can only be imported from states where no cyst nematodes were detected and be shipped to a designated potato chip production factory in the coastal area.

Currently, 15 U.S. states are eligible for shipping potatoes to Japan for chipping purposes. Still, the 2017 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers released by the U.S. Trade Representative Office in March mentions chipping potatoes in the section for sanitary and phytosanitary barriers, saying the U.S. “will continue to monitor developments ahead of the 2017 shipping season.”

“The article could encourage the U.S. government to strongly demand in future bilateral economic talks that Japan relax its plant health measures,” said an official of Japan’s agriculture industry.

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