Several countries in Asia are already taking immediate action to ban the import of seafood from Japan, in retaliation to the recent news of the release of treated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea.
The move by Japan was opposed by fishing groups as well as neighbouring countries like China, Hong Kong and Thailand amongst others as they were concerned on the possible exposure of radioactive contamination in Japanese seafood products which could pose health and safety risk to consumers.
One of the countries that immediately ban Japanese seafood is China, which is the largest export market for Japanese seafood, contributing to 22.5% of its total seafood exports. Meanwhile, prices of scallops, sea cucumbers and other seafood popular in China have also plunged due to consumer scare of these products coming from Japan, thereby affecting demand.
Japan is planning to file a complaint on the ban to the World Trade Organisation, and it has called for a US$141 million emergency fund to aid Japanese exporters affected by the ban. The International Atomic Energy Agency has earlier concluded that the treated water released into the sea meets international safety standards and should not be a cause of concern for consumers. Nevertheless, countries and consumer bodies are not convinced by the findings.
In Hong Kong, its Chief Executive John Lee has criticised the release of the treated water as irresponsible as it will cause irreparable pollution and destruction to marine life, apart from causing risk to consumers who eat seafood products. Supermarkets and restaurants in the territory already started placing posters or labels that their seafood are imported from other countries and not from Japan to appease consumers.
Hong Kong is Japan’s 2nd largest market after China for seafood. In 2022, the territory imported US$536 million worth of Japanese seafood products. The ban on Japanese seafood in Hong Kong covers live, frozen, chilled, dried and preserved goods, seaweed products and sea salt from Tokyo, Fukushima, Chiba, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Gunma, Miyagi, Niigata, Nagano and Saitama.
Meanwhile in Thailand, seafood retailers are also monitoring closely the development. One example is Thai Union Online Shop Co, the distributor of Qfresh frozen seafood products under Thai Union Group Plc. The company is planning to switch to alternative sourcing for specific seafood products should an elevated risk be identified, according to Thanachote Boonmechote, Managing Director of Thai Union Online Shop. Currently, 30% of its frozen seafood products are imported from Japan and these include Hokkaido scallops (Hotate) and Hamaji fish sashimi grade.
To counter the ban, the Japanese government will seek to expand domestic seafood consumption, while at the same time seek new export destinations in Taiwan, US, Europe, the Middle East as well as Southeast Asian countries.