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Trade

Hong Kong leader urged to go slow on lifting food import ban on Japan ahead of meeting with foreign minister

Business community and lawmakers express continuing concern over agricultural products from radiation-affected areas

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 March, 2018, 10:33pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 March, 2018, 11:28pm

Hong Kong importers and lawmakers are urging the city’s leader to be cautious about Tokyo’s expected request to lift restrictions on Japanese food imports.

They spoke as Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono arrived in Hong Kong on Saturday, a day before his meeting with Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on economic and trade issues.

Kono is the first Japanese foreign minister to visit Hong Kong for bilateral matters since the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, the Japanese foreign ministry said.

Kono also had a 30-minute meeting with Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen on Saturday afternoon, before taking a short tour of the chamber.

According to a press release issued by the Japanese foreign ministry, Leung and Kono agreed in their meeting that Hong Kong and Japan needed to strengthen cooperation towards maintaining and promoting free trade.

Kono also visited a Judo school in Hong Kong.

On Friday, Kono made clear that discussing the food import ban and tourism would be priorities for his visit.

If the restriction is lifted, it will give businesses and residents here more choices
Dennis Ng, Chinese Manufacturers’ Association

“Hong Kong is a major importer of Japanese agricultural products, but it is still not accepting agricultural imports from five prefectures, including Fukushima,” he said.

Since the 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster in the prefecture, Hong Kong has banned the import of food produce such as vegetables and fruits from Fukushima. The ban also applies to four neighbouring prefectures.

Dennis Ng Wang-pun, president of the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association, one of the city’s most influential business groups, believed lifting it would only be a good idea if Tokyo could prove that the nuclear radiation problem “had been resolved”.

“I think this is mainly a problem with the five prefectures’ economy,” he said. “If the restriction is lifted, it would give businesses and residents here more choices.”

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Lawmaker Wong Ting-kwong, who represents the import and export sector, was more sceptical.

“I think Lam has the political wisdom and common sense to handle the request,” he said. “We have to make sure the products would not be contaminated with radiation, rather than taking whatever business opportunities are presented to us.”

According to a statement released by the Japanese foreign ministry on Friday, Kono and Lam were on Sunday “expected to affirm the importance of Japan-Hong Kong relations, and exchange views on further strengthening relations, including in the areas of economy and tourism”. Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics.

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Japan is a favourite tourist destination of Hongkongers. In 2016, mainland China, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong were the main sources of tourists visiting the island nation, accounting for 26, 22, 19 and 9 per cent of the total respectively. Nearly 1.8 million Hongkongers visited that year.

Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said it was the Japanese government’s responsibility, not Hong Kong’s, to come up with ways to lure Hongkongers to travel.

“Lam is not in the position [to propose anything] because Hongkongers go wherever appeals to them,” Yeung said.

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Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported that Kono would visit Hong Kong to discuss the enforcement of sanctions on Pyongyang, ahead of a North-South summit next month and US President Donald Trump’s possible meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sometime before the end of May.

But a Hong Kong government source previously told the Post that the city leader had taken the topic off the table for her official meeting on Sunday.

Under the “one country, two systems” policy, Hong Kong relies on Beijing to handle matters of diplomacy and foreign affairs.