【News】Japanese strawberry varieties taken to South Korea without permission, causing estimated losses of 22 billion yen (June 21, 2017)

Japan’s strawberry varieties have recently been taken to South Korea without permission, taking away domestic producers’ export opportunities and causing maximum losses of 22 billion yen in the last five years, an estimate by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Ministry has revealed.

The ministry is calling for the need to register domestically-developed varieties abroad, expressing concern over the more-than-expected adverse impact on domestic production.

According to the ministry, more than 90 percent of strawberries cultivated in South Korea are varieties created based on Japanese varieties. Japanese strawberries such as Tochiotome grown in Tochigi Prefecture and Red Pearl and Akihime developed by Japanese farmers were taken to South Korea without permission, and were crossbred in the country to develop Seolhyang, Maehyang and Keumhyang varieties. Such South Korean strawberries are exported to other Asian countries at an amount exceeding exports from Japan.

Based on the assumption that Japanese varieties were not taken to South Korea and new varieties were not developed, the ministry calculated the amount which could have been exported from Japan instead of South Korea. Estimating from the value of South Korean exports, the ministry said Japan suffered losses of 22 billion yen at the most in the last five years. Considering that Japan’s exports of strawberries totaled 1.1 billion yen last year, the estimate means Japan could have posted four times more exports in terms of value in five years.

The ministry also estimated that if the Japanese varieties were registered in South Korea, the developers of the varieties could have received royalties totaling 1.6 billion yen a year. South Korea has a variety registration system, but strawberries had not been subject to protection under the system until 2012 so Japanese variety developers could not register the varieties in the country.

When domestic varieties are found to be taken overseas and cultivated, unless the varieties are registered, developers cannot take countermeasures such as demanding that growers suspend cultivation or dispose of their products.

Under international rules, new plant varieties can be registered only within four years after the start of sales. However, some growers are hesitant about registering their varieties because of the burden related to registration fees and procedures.

Agriculture minister Yuji Yamamoto expressed concern over the issue at a regular news conference on June 20, saying that the ministry will boost support for domestic growers who register their varieties abroad and make efforts to prevent outflow of quality varieties.

“It is important to protect (domestic growers’) intellectual property rights abroad,” Yamamoto said, adding that the ministry has been offering subsidies since last year for domestic growers to cover the costs of applying for registration and going through examination by foreign institutions.

“Through such measures, we are determined to continue protecting seeds and seedlings which are important strategic materials,” Yamamoto said.

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