Last month, a government delegation led by Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights Clint Camilleri, had the opportunity to visit Foodex Japan 2019, one of Asia’s largest food and beverage trade shows – now in its 44th year of operation. 

The aim of the visit was to explore new market entry opportunities for Maltese products, which will benefit under the new EU-Japan trade deal that entered into force on February 1. 

According to EU data, there are currently 44 Maltese companies that export to Japan and the number of jobs in Malta that EU exports to Japan help support is said to be almost 1,262. Malta already exports tuna, electrical components, switches and metal alloys to Japan. 

In 2018, Malta exported more to Japan than any other trading partner outside of the European Union with a total value of around €149 million in goods. It is indeed an achievement to see such positive figures and high trade levels with Japan. For this reason, and for the excellent ongoing bilateral relations, Malta will open an embassy in Tokyo that will help the promotion of Maltese products and services in Japan. 

It is therefore important to keep building on this success, and for this reason, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion will explore new avenues of trade while also safeguarding existing ones. 

The role of the ministry is to commence discussions and negotiations with the Japanese government to open new channels of trade. 

Take for instance the exportation of meat. Before a Maltese company can start exporting meat to Japan, this needs to pass from the necessary quarantine checks to ensure that Maltese products are safe for consumption in Japan. 

Such processes can take months and even years to get the necessary approvals from the Japanese authorities to start exportation.   

For a Maltese company that wishes to export to Japan, it is very important to keep up to date with the latest developments and to be informed about opportunities like the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). Thanks to this trade deal, the following agricultural products will have a greater chance of success in Japan.

It is imperative that we export our best produce to Japan as this will ultimately affect our national brand

Wine – tariffs for still and sparkling wine have been liberalised with the entry into force of the agreement on February 1. Wine is getting more and more popular in Japan so it is a sector worth targeting. This applies for those wines with the DOK label where the grapes originate from Malta and Gozo. 

Pork meat – this is the most consumed meat in Japan and demand surpasses their local supply. Europe’s main export to Japan is pork meat and the 20 per cent tariff will be phased out in the next five years. 

Potatoes – these are also consumed widely in Japan, especially in the northern part of the country. 

In addition, Japan would recognise more than 200 European Geographical Indications (GIs) chosen by EU member states for their actual or potential export value in the Japanese market. 

Only products with this status would be allowed to be sold in Japan under the corresponding name. 

This will reduce incorrect labelling and imitations from being sold in the Japanese market. For example, only Maltese DOK wine that originates from local grapes will be able to be sold in Japan that will qualify under EPA conditions. 

This also makes sure of protecting the quality of the product as it will also affect the image of our country. It is therefore imperative that we export our best produce to Japan as this will ultimately affect our national brand. 

The Japanese market is not an easy one to enter and it has its challenges. The Japanese are known for having an eye for detail and require top-quality products, so the benchmark is quite high. Malta has already achieved success in the tuna industry so why not target other sectors? 

The ministry and Trade Malta will make sure to support Malta-based enterprises in order to internationalise to Japan and also other countries in the Asian region so feel free to contact us to see how we can assist to achieve your aspirations. 

Carmelo Abela is Minister of Foreign Affairs. 

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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