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Japan's 2018 farm, fisheries exports up 12% to hit record for 6th yr

Shoppers look around a section for Japanese food products at a department store of Yata Ltd. in Hong Kong, on March 5, 2018. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan's agriculture, forestry and fisheries exports in 2018 grew 12.4 percent from a year earlier to hit a record high for the sixth straight year, buoyed by strong demand from other Asian nations, the farm ministry said Friday.

The 2018 preliminary figure of 906.8 billion yen ($8.3 billion) indicates Tokyo's 1 trillion yen farm export target in 2019 is within reach, as shipments are likely to expand further on the popularity of "washoku," or Japanese food, overseas and the entry into force of major free trade agreements involving Japan.

"To achieve the 1 trillion yen goal, we need an annual growth of more than 10 percent. By supporting producers of export items, we'll strive to meet the target," farm minister Takamori Yoshikawa told a press conference on Friday.

By country and region, Hong Kong remained the largest buyer of Japanese farm produce at 211.5 billion yen. China rose to second from the previous year's third spot at 133.8 billion yen, surpassing the 117.7 billion yen of the United States, which was third in 2018.

Exports of agricultural products, which include processed foods, were up 14.0 percent from a year before to 566.1 billion yen, those of fisheries products rose 10.3 percent to 303.1 billion yen while forestry items grew 6.0 percent to 37.6 billion yen.

Mackerel surged 22.0 percent to 26.6 billion yen, helped by robust demand from African countries such as Nigeria and Egypt, beef increased 29.1 percent to 24.7 billion yen and sake climbed 19.0 percent to 22.2 billion yen.

Some fruits made rapid advances, as apples, supported by high yields in the year, jumped 27.6 percent to 13.9 billion yen, and strawberries soared 40.7 percent to 2.5 billion yen.

Eggs saw a sharp rise of 49.4 percent to 1.5 billion yen, as the traditional Japanese food culture of eating raw eggs spread to other countries. But shipments of Chinese yams and garden plants were down.

The entry into force of an 11-member trans-Pacific free trade agreement in late December as well as a Japan-European Union free trade pact on Feb. 1 is expected to help boost Tokyo's farm exports as they have lowered tariffs on Japanese beef "wagyu," sake as well as green tea.

Some markets including China and Hong Kong, however, continue to restrict food imports from Japan's Fukushima Prefecture and surrounding areas following the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The Japanese government plans to keep calling for an easing of the ban.

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