On Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced a 20.7 billion yen ($141 million) emergency fund to aid seafood exporters affected by China’s ban on Japanese seafood. This ban was imposed in response to the release of treated radioactive wastewater from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean, which began on August 24 and is expected to continue for decades. The release has been strongly opposed by Japanese fishing associations and groups in neighboring countries, including China, which immediately banned all imports of Japanese seafood. Hong Kong has also banned Japanese seafood from Fukushima and nine other prefectures.
The Chinese trade restrictions have had a significant impact on Japanese seafood exporters, with shipments being held up at Chinese customs for weeks and prices of popular seafood products such as scallops and sea cucumbers plummeting. The ban has even affected prices and sales of seafood from areas as far away from Fukushima as Hokkaido, home to many scallop growers.
In addition to the emergency fund, Kishida stated that the government had previously allocated 80 billion yen ($547 million) to support fisheries and seafood processing and combat damage to the reputation of Japanese products. The funds will be used to find new markets for Japanese seafood to replace China, fund government purchases of seafood for temporary freezing and storage, and seek to expand domestic seafood consumption.
Kishida visited Tokyo’s Toyosu fish market last Friday to assess the impact of China’s ban and pledged to protect Japan’s seafood industry. He will be heading to Indonesia on Tuesday to attend the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, where he may face criticism over the wastewater release from Chinese Premier Li Qian.
Large amounts of radioactive wastewater have accumulated at the Fukushima plant since a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 destroyed its cooling systems and caused three reactors to melt. However, all seawater and fish samples taken since the release of the treated wastewater began have been way below set safety limits for radioactivity, according to Japanese officials and the plant operator.
Mainland China is the largest overseas market for Japanese seafood, accounting for 22.5% of the total, followed by Hong Kong with 20%, making the ban a major blow for the fisheries industry. However, seafood exports are only a fraction of Japan’s total exports, and the ban’s impact on overall trade will be limited unless tensions escalate and China widens its restrictions to other trade sectors.
Beijing is angry over U.S. trade controls that limit China’s access to semiconductor processor chips and other U.S. technology on security grounds. Japan has also curbed exports of chipmaking technology. Such restrictions imposed by Tokyo could cause an escalation of Chinese trade bans against Japan. Takahide Kiuchi, executive economist at Nomura Research Institute, stated that considering such risks, the Japanese government needs to carefully think about how to deal with worsening ties with China, not just over the treated water discharge but also how it should cooperate with the United States in areas of investment and trade restrictions with China.