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The Asahi Shimbun
July 20, 2023 at 16:43 JST
Photo/Illutration A tuna from Nagasaki Prefecture is cut apart in Guangzhou, China, in March. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
Japanese fish and shellfish exporters are facing a collapse of their largest export market after Chinese authorities tightened radiation testing on shipments.
The measure, imposed in some ports on fresh fish, comes as Japan’s government prepares to release treated radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. The water is currently held in storage tanks at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
“Fresh fish used for sashimi and other dishes cannot be sold because it does not stay fresh,” said a person involved in Japan-China trade.
Around two weeks ago, customs authorities began detaining all Japanese marine products at some import sites, several sources said. China’s government said the scrutiny will expand to other locations, too.
The inspection regime existed before, but previously the tests were voluntary. Moreover, only some samples were tested.
China banned food imports from Fukushima Prefecture and nine other prefectures after the 2011 reactor meltdowns at the plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.
The plan to release treated water, which will still contain low levels of tritium, has drawn a sharply negative reaction from China.
On July 7, the General Administration of Customs of China said it would implement “100 percent inspections” of food, particularly marine products, “to protect customer safety.”
The inspections would apply to imports from Japanese prefectures not currently blacklisted.
Customs authorities said products would be held for testing for a period of two to four weeks, sources said.
Some companies in China have already started to cancel imports of fish from Japan.
It is believed that the full-scale inspections are currently under way in cities such as Shanghai and Dalian, entry points for many Japanese marine products.
“It will gradually spread throughout China,” said a Chinese government official.
The Japanese government acknowledges that a slow-down seems under way.
“We received reports that some of the seafood exports to China are being held at local customs and we are checking the details,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said on July 19.
Tokyo argues there is no basis for alarm. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on July 18 that he would “strongly request that discussions based on scientific evidence be conducted” with China.
China is defiant. It rejected the call for talks and has adopted countermeasures even before the water is released.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Japan’s exports to China last year of agricultural, forestry and marine products totaled 278.2 billion yen ($2 billion). 
Seafood accounted for 87.1 billion yen of the total, making China Japan’s largest seafood destination. Scallops, sea cucumbers, bonito and tuna were among the top items.
Detaining imports for lengthy periods for inspections is likely to greatly negatively affect trade between the two nations.
(This article was written by Ryo Inoue in Shanghai, Akihiro Nishiyama in Beijing and Kim Soonhi.)
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