EU to start easing restrictions on Fukushima food imports

Tokyo, Jan 9 (IANS) The European Union will start easing from Saturday restrictions imposed on Japanese food imports over the Fukushima nuclear disaster, including vegetables and beef produced in the prefecture.

Tsuyoshi Takagi, cabinet minister in charge of rebuilding from the March 2011 quake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, on Friday welcomed the bloc’s decision. At present, all food items from Fukushima except alcoholic beverages must be shipped with radiation inspection certificates, the Japan Times reported.

That requirement will be removed for vegetables, fruit excluding persimmons, livestock products, tea and soba (buckwheat), because the radiation levels of these items never exceeded permissible levels in 2013 and 2014, according to the farm ministry.

Other food items from the prefecture such as rice, mushrooms, soybeans and some fishery products – excluding scallops, seaweed and live fish – will remain subject to the requirement.

The EU move follows the agriculture, forestry and fisheries ministry’s announcement in November 2015 that the bloc would ease the restrictions after gaining approval from the European Commission.

The decision also comes as the EU and Japan are in the midst of negotiations for a free trade agreement. In the talks, Tokyo is seeking the elimination of duties on Japanese vehicles, while Brussels is looking to expand exports through the reduction of tariffs on pork, cheese, wine and other agricultural products.

Aside from Fukushima, restrictions will remain in place for some items produced in 12 prefectures in northeastern, eastern and central Japan.

At least 14 countries, including Australia and Thailand, have abolished restrictions on Japanese food imports, while dozens of countries like South Korea maintain special rules.

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