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Japan mulls partially lifting ban on chicken meat from Russia ahead of leaders’ G20 talks

Japan mulls partially lifting ban on chicken meat from Russia ahead of leaders’ G20 talks

VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA – Japan is considering partially lifting an import ban on chicken meat from Russia, with the two countries’ leaders expected to discuss the matter on the sidelines of this week’s Group of 20 summit in Osaka, government sources said Monday.

Since 2005, Japan has banned imports of raw chicken meat from Russia due to concerns about bird flu. According to the sources, Tokyo would lift the ban only for certain parts of Russia proven to have a low risk of exporting meat carrying the disease.

In May, Japan’s agriculture ministry asked an expert panel to discuss whether Tokyo should lift the ban, which would likely take effect in 2020 at the earliest.

The proposal is part of a broader discussion on expanding trade in meat between the two countries.

The government’s top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, told a news conference Monday that the two countries were working on “a number of issues,” but declined to comment on whether Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin would reach any agreement at their meeting in Osaka on Saturday.

Japan plans to urge Russia to recognize more Japanese facilities handling exports, in order to boost Russia-bound shipments of Japanese beef.

In turn, Tokyo will be open to discussing an increase to the number of authorized Russian facilities that handle processed meat products bound for Japan, the sources said.

According to the farm ministry, Japan imported roughly 550,000 tons of chicken meat in the year through March, with some 70 percent coming from Brazil and 20 percent from Thailand.

Japan currently suspends imports of chicken meat from 57 countries and regions to prevent the bird flu virus from entering the country, according to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.

The two countries have also been holding intensive talks recently on joint economic activities to be pursued on a group of disputed islands, ahead of the meeting between Abe and Putin.

On Sunday, Russian sources said Japan and Russia are unlikely to reach a final agreement this week to start all five areas of the joint projects, which include aquaculture and waste reduction.

The economic activities are expected to benefit Russia by bringing investment into the underdeveloped region. Japan, for its part, has seen them as a trust-building exercise that will help lay the groundwork for resolving the decades-old territorial row.

But one government source in Sakhalin, in the Russian Far East, which effectively administers the disputed islands, said, “There has been no progress at all (over the past months) toward fleshing out the projects.”

The sources partly attributed the failure to reach an agreement to a decision by both countries in November last year to set aside talks on the economic activities, and devote their efforts instead to negotiations toward a post-World War II peace treaty.

During the negotiations for a treaty, which the countries have yet to conclude due to the territorial dispute, Abe had aimed to secure the return of the smaller two of the four islands off Hokkaido. However, he gave up on such a deal when Moscow failed to budge.

The two countries have since reverted to talks on the joint economic activities.

Of the five fields, two of them — waste reduction and tourism — were seen to have the fewest hurdles regarding issues with customs and tax procedures that needed clarification.

But sources familiar with the projects have said the countries remain apart even in these two areas.

For example, Japan has proposed providing waste compression and volume reduction equipment for use on the four islands, but local residents are expecting the construction of a large-scale waste incineration plant.

In the area of tourism, the Russian side is calling on Japan to cooperate on infrastructure projects because the islands do not have enough accommodation facilities, according to the sources.

Other areas where cooperation had been planned are greenhouse farming and wind-power generation.

The disputed islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan and Southern Kurils in Russia, were seized by the Soviet Union after Japan’s 1945 surrender brought an end to World War II.

Japan opposes Russia’s position that it legitimately acquired the islands as a result of the war.