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Freshfel Europe calls on EU and Japan to build fresh produce trade

Interview with Philippe Binard, general secretary of Freshfel Europe

Philippe Binard © Freshfel Europe


Freshfel Europe is calling on EU and Japanese authorities to build fresh produce trade on the outcome of the new EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement. The European Commission hosted an online seminar on 19-20 April between the EU and Japan to facilitate discussions on how to boost trade for EU agriculture products on the Japanese market. The new EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement is now fully in force and it is the right moment to evaluate the state-of-play and future outlook of the agreement. Freshfel Europe voiced the views and expectations of the European fresh fruit and vegetables sector on the many pending dossiers and on missed opportunities to grow business within the new agreement. 

Despite the coming into force of the new EU-Japan Economic Agreement and the positive outlook resulting from the visit of Commissioner Hogan in Tokyo in May 2019, no significant progress has been made to new market access to Japan for the export of high quality EU fresh fruit and vegetables to the high value Japanese market of 127 million inhabitants. This was the key message of Freshfel Europe General Delegate Philippe Binard at the EU-Japan seminar entitled ‘How the EU ensures the highest quality for its agriculture export’. Binard said: “Despite all the efforts from the EU and more than 10 years of negotiations and clear interest for Japanese traders to import high quality, safe and sustainable fresh produce from the EU, too many applications for market access to the Japanese authorities have not been concluded yet.” 

Today EU exports of fresh produce to Japan total less than 10,000 tons, representing only a small percentage of the total 2.4m tons of imports into Japan from third countries. Binard said: “Multiple market access applications are pending ranging from Italian and Greek kiwifruit, Belgian pears and tomatoes, Portuguese and Hungarian cherries, and persimmons from Spain. Many other provisions of existing protocols also need to be revised to remove pre-clearance, broaden the scope of protocols to more varieties or substitute methyl-bromide treatment by more environmentally friendly systems approaches.” 

According to Freshfel, it is now time to deliver the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement and speed up negotiations to open new market opportunities. EU fresh produce represents a seal of quality, reliability and diversity for Japanese consumers. On the occasion of the UN International Year of Fruit and Vegetables 2021 authorities should prioritise fresh produce in their market access negotiations and urgently unlock pending hurdles. The EU fruit and vegetables sector exports to 140 destinations around the world based on international standards and strict EU regulatory environment. EU growers and exporters are demonstrating their expertise to handle high quality and safe produce, brining competitiveness and mastering logistic skills to access the most sophisticated markets. Binard concluded: “Under the new bilateral agreement, the momentum today should not be missed. The EU and Japan should work hard in the coming months to build trade on the new business environment of the Agreement and secure that Japanese trade and consumers can enjoy the high quality and safety of European fresh produce in their daily healthy diet.”

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Lower citrus imports to Japan in 2020/21 as domestic crop recovers

Lower citrus imports to Japan in 2020/21 as domestic crop recovers
Photo: Eurofresh Distribution

Japan’s citrus crop is expected to recover in 2020/21 following a poor harvest in 2019/20, according to FAS/Tokyo data. Increased household consumption of oranges due to the COVID-19 pandemic is predicted to provide a modest boost to imports of fresh oranges. Following a COVID-19-related decline in food service demand in 2019/20 and resulting high levels of stocks, 2020/21 imports of lemons and orange juice are projected to plummet. Grapefruit demand continues to steadily slip. 

In 2019/20, Japan increased imports of fresh tangerines by 11.3% to 21,031 tons, due to lower domestic production.  This increase was primarily reflected in the summer tangerine imports from Australia, the second largest tangerine exporter to Japan. The US is the top exporter of fresh tangerines to Japan and supplies approximately 60% of Japan’s tangerine imports. A recovery of domestic summer fruit production is forecast in 2020/21, which should prompt a contraction in import volumes. Japan’s 2020/21 tangerine imports are expected to fall 9.6% to 19,000 tons, of which 12,000 tons will be from the US.

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Daikin’s Active CA container technology powers CMA CGM’s CLIMACTIVE controlled atmosphere and successfully expands perishable cargo range

Daikin’s Active CA container technology powers CMA CGM’s
Press release & photo: Next Level Information

CLIMACTIVE controlled atmosphere and successfully expands perishable cargo range

New markets reached thanks to precise management of conditions inside reefer containers

OSAKA, 1 December 2020, Using its Active CA container technology, Daikin successfully deployed CMA CGM’s CLIMACTIVE controlled atmosphere solution. Designed by Daikin Reefer, this technology allowed CMA CGM to successfully expand its perishable cargo range, transporting new produce to distant markets by providing precise atmospheric conditions within the reefer containers, guaranteeing freshness and optimum condition upon arrival.

Daikin Reefer is a leading supplier of refrigeration and climate control solutions for freight containers. Headquartered in Japan, Daikin Reefer is the refrigeration business division of global refrigeration, air conditioning and climate control provider Daikin Industries, Ltd.

CMA CGM, a world leader in shipping and logistics with the second largest reefer container fleet in the world of 410,000 TEUs of reefer containers and 300,000 reefer plugs, has successfully expanded its perishable cargo range, transporting new produce to distant markets using CLIMACTIVE Controlled Atmosphere, its advanced technology system which is driven by Daikin’s Active CA container technology.

The cargoes in question required precise atmospheric conditions within the reefer containers in order to preserve freshness and arrive at their destination in optimum condition and ready to be consumed. CMA CGM’s successful shipments of fresh produce were achieved through deploying its CLIMACTIVE Controlled Atmosphere controlled atmosphere system which is powered by Daikin’s Active CA container technology. In CA optimal mode, low oxygen and carbon dioxide settings of 2% to 3% are initiated to deliver precise management of conditions inside the reefer containers. This unique technological advantage of Daikin’s Active CA actively helps shippers expand their cargo ranges and reach new markets.  Through its direct collaboration with shippers and exporters, Daikin Reefer ensures each containerload of perishables is correctly calibrated so that the produce travels long distances and arrives in a ‘fresh picked’ state, ready for market and consumer enjoyment.

Vegetables require more humidity in transit than fruit: lettuce, in particular, can develop brown spots during transit if the correct transportation conditions aren’t present. Unlike other industry providers of CA, Daikin’s Active CA doesn’t inject dry air into the container, but uniquely achieves humidity conservation through charging rich nitrogen gas into the reefer container which adds vital moisture and reduces the respiration of the cargo by quickly reducing oxygen concentration.  The positive pressure inside the container, without outside air entering, leads to a fast reduction of O2 concentration.

Because of the unique low oxygen and carbon dioxide settings of 2% to 3% delivered by Daikin’s CA optimal mode, no other CA technology provider can deliver such ambience control for shippers. As the fresh produce is put into a state of hibernation inside the reefer with the reduced oxygen and managed carbon dioxide conditions, its quality and shelf life are extended, even on the longest of journeys.

“Thanks to the managed oxygen and CO2 levels in our reefer containers, our CLIMACTIVE Controlled Atmosphere system allows us to complete shipments over long transit times, knowing that perishable produce will arrive in optimum condition, enabling us to identify even more new opportunities and offer new markets to our customers said Mr. Stéphane Nielsen, Reefer Department Director of CMA CGM.

“CLIMACTIVE Controlled Atmosphere plays an important role among the Reefer products which CMA CGM may offer. Driven by an Innovative Software, the VPSA system used by Active technology achieves unique performances, allowing shelf life optimization of a large range of fresh produce”, added Julian Carbunaru, CMA CGM Reefer Department Technical Manager.

“Daikin Reefer maintains close dialogue with our customers so that we can fine tune our technology and ensure it meets their needs and is fit for purpose. Our aim is to allow even more shippers to expand their cargo range and reach new markets using our CA optimal mode”. concluded Goh Ah Huat. General Manager, Global Marketing and Service of Daikin Reefer.

About Daikin Reefer

Headquartered in Japan, Daikin Transportation and Refrigeration Systems Division (Daikin Reefer) is a wholly owned division of Daikin Industries Ltd, providing refrigeration equipment to the global container industry. Grounded in more than 90 years’ experience, Daikin Reefer combines world-leading Japanese technology that delivers assured reliability, performance, and efficiency.

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Japan’s cherry crop rebounds

Japan’s cherry crop rebounds


Japan’s 2020/21 cherry crop is expected to recover from a difficult 2019/20 season, but unfavourable weather conditions are set to lead to a smaller peach harvest, according to FAS/Tokyo.  In 2019/20, Japan imported 4,152 tons of fresh cherries, worth US$40 million. The United States supplied 95.3% of all Japan’s cherry imports. Japan’s imports of sweet cherries are projected to increase by 1% to 4,200 tons from 2019/20 levels due to steady consumption and a recently reduced tariff for sweet cherries. Japan does not import sour cherries, and its cherry exports are negligible (approximately 1 ton).

Source: FAS/Tokyo

Japan imports no peaches and the US is the sole exporter of fresh nectarines to Japan. In 2019/20, Japan imported 186 tons of US nectarines. In light of the small shipping volumes and higher freight charges due to COVID-19-related flight reductions, FAS/Tokyo forecasts Japan’s 2020/21 imports to decrease by 14% to 160 tons.

In line with Japan’s 2014 national policy, Japan Revitalization Strategy, to increase agricultural exports to 1 trillion yen (approximately US$10 billion) by 2020, Japan has been gradually increasing fresh peach exports. Due to the higher price for Japanese peaches in foreign markets compared to Japan, Japan’s peach exports continued to increase even when peach production took a downturn in 2019/20.  In 2019/20, Japan exported 1,780 tons of peaches, worth about US$17 million. The main markets were Hong Kong (72.2%)and Taiwan (20.4%). FAS/Tokyo forecasts export volume to decrease by 15.7% to 1,500 tons in 2020/21 due to political instability in Hong Kong and high air freight charges due to COVID-19.


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Japan registers fall in fruit consumption amidst high prices

Even though fruit is a significant snack globally, and even vegetables are popular in the Asia-Pacific region (57%), cheese is the most eaten snack in Europe (58%), bread/sandwiches in the Middle East (47%), ice cream in Latin America (63%) and potato/tortilla crisps in the US (63%).

The first half of 2020 saw fruit prices in Japan at their highest levels for a decade. The soaring prices have no doubt contributed to the drop in fruit consumption. Between January and June 2020, the average price of fruit in Japan was US$4.86/kg, compared with US$4.34/kg for the period since 2011, according to data from Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. So, as demand has fallen, the average Japanese household spend on fruit has risen. Fruit consumption has dropped to 31.5kg per household, the second-lowest total since 2011 and 5.5% lower than the ten-year average. Fruit expenditure per household for the 6-month period was 5.7% above the ten-year average, reaching US$153.3, its highest level in a decade.

However, the two categories that bucked the trend are kiwifruit and banana. In the first six months of 2020, banana consumption in Japan was at its highest since 2012, reaching 9.88kg per household. Records were broken for kiwifruit consumption, with 1.23kg consumed per household. The remarkable performances of kiwi and banana have been ascribed to the effective promotional campaigns targeting these fruits.

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Japan’s fruit imports grow despite higher prices 

Japan’s fruit imports grow despite higher prices 

Despite the current global logistics problems, Japan’s fresh fruit imports were up 1.3% in March compared with the previous year, according to Japan’s Ministry of Finance. The country imported almost 135,000 tons of fresh fruit in March 2020, despite rising prices. Japanese households purchased on average 5.61kg of fruit in March 2020, up 2.5% from the previous year. Meanwhile, expenditure increased 5.3% to US$27.

Kiwifruit recorded the greatest year-on-year growth, up 230% to 3,260 tons. This surge in demand is attributable to the earlier arrival of New Zealand fruit this year. There were also increases in most major categories, with banana volumes up 6% to 81,600 tons, pineapple up 6% to 12,200 tons and table grapes up 6% to 8,150 tons. Taking the first quarter of 2020 as a whole, Japan’s fresh fruit imports climbed 2% from the same period in 2019, importing 370,900 tons. 

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Westfalia Fruit sends Colombian avocados to Japan

Westfalia Fruit sends Colombian avocados to Japan

After years of hard work, a container carrying 16 tonnes of quality Colombian Hass avocados has been exported from Westfalia Fruit Colombia (WFC) to Yokohama, Japan. This is the first time that WFC has shipped avocados to the country.

“Colombia’s avocados are in such good condition that WFC is confident shipping avocados to markets that require longer transit times – including Japan, Russia and the Middle East,” says WFC General Manager, and newly elected Vice Chairperson of the Colombian Avocado Board, Pedro Aguilar.

Westfalia Fruit Farms in Colombia has successfully developed its orchards in Sonsón over the past four years, with a constant vision to export its quality fruits to new diverse markets. The excellent agro-ecological conditions in the Sonsón region – which include rich soil with good drainage, warm temperatures, regular precipitation and optimal altitude – are ideal for growing Hass avocados. As a result, WFC is diversifying its markets and has become a major player in global destinations.

The Japanese government worked closely with WFC to ensure the country’s strict technical requirements were met for successful exportation. The avocados left Port Buenaventura, Colombia in mid-January, and the shipment arrived in Yokohama at the beginning of February after fulfilling strict pest control requirements. WFC successfully met the demand for intensive monitoring and surveillance of its high-quality fruit during the entire process.

“We made sure our shipment met strict controls,” says Gilma Orrego, WFC Technical Manager. “We ensured optimal harvesting and plant packaging processes, and the best cooling processes along the way. We also made sure that the fruits consisted of adequate dry matter to guarantee good flavour upon arrival at their destination.”

The Colombian Agricultural Institute also assisted with monitoring the process – from the Japanese government’s very first visit to WFC’s orchards, to the packing and shipment of the fruits.

“We were very careful to introduce our fruit at the right time, in a context where we could develop sustainable business in a long-term commercial relationship,” says Juliana Florez, WFC Commercial Manager. “We waited until we could introduce our high-quality fruit with the best taste – even if it meant waiting a few months after the market was open to us.”

This is yet another boost for the Colombian avocado trade after the World Avocado Congress 2019, sponsored by Westfalia Fruit and held in Colombia, brought much attention and success to the country’s avocado industry.

In another milestone for Colombian avocados, the newly formed Colombia Avocado Board (CAB) was this month certified as an official importer association under the Hass Avocado Promotion, Research and Information Order. CAB will now receive 85% of the assessments paid on Colombia Hass avocados to the Hass Avocado Board (HAB) for research, promotion and information on avocados from Colombia in the United States market.

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Agreement opens opportunities for US fruit in Japan

The US-Japan Trade Agreement (USJTA) came into force on January 1, 2020. Once USJTA is fully implemented, up to 90% of all US food and agricultural products imported into Japan will be duty free or receive preferential tariff access. Japan is a key trading partner for the US. In 2018, the US exported $318 million of fresh fruit to Japan, making Japan the 4th largest overseas market for US fresh fruit. The US was the source of one third of Japan’s fresh fruit imports and the leading supplier of fresh oranges, lemons, grapes and cherries. Japan will apply a seasonal US-specific safeguard for oranges starting at 26,435 tons. The safeguard only applies to products imported between December 1 and March 31. If the safeguard volume is exceeded, tariffs on US orange exports will increase for the remainder of that period. The safeguard tariff is 28% in Years 1-3 and 20% in Years 4-6.  The safeguard will be eliminated in Year 7 (2025).

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Japanese supermarket giant Aeon, in online grocery push

AEON organic retail store

AEON organic retail store

Credit: Aeon



Aeon is partnering with British online grocery pioneer Ocado to launch a new company by March 2020 that will use AI and robotics to deliver a cutting-edge digital experience. Also, as a sustainability initiative, Aeon has set up a platform to help boost organic farming in Japan, where demand is outstripping supply of organic food.


Fresh food delivery has yet to truly take off among the Japanese, who largely still pick up fresh produce on a daily basis. But with better logistic networks and different demographics – such as more dual-income households and senior citizens – that’s forecast to change. And with AmazonFresh already in Tokyo, and Walmart (owner of Aeon rival Seiyu) beefing up its online grocery delivery together with Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, it’s no surprise that supermarket Aeon is also making the leap. In a statement in November, Aeon said it will leverage Ocado’s world leading know-how to launch and operate “the next generation online supermarket.” It plans to open its first customer fulfilment centre harnessing the Ocado Smart Platform by 2023 to serve Japan’s Kanto region, followed by others over the following two years in order to eventually serve the whole country. And it anticipates achieving online grocery sales of about 600 billion yen (about €4.92b) by 2030. “Aeon will realise a highly efficient operations and distribution system to deliver ‘anytime, anywhere, anything’ through a superb application interface to meet our customer needs. It is expected that these technologies can be utilised for the existing Aeon online supermarket business, store pick up, click & collect,” the company said in a press release. Aeon also plans to seek more partners both in Japan and around the world in order to be at the forefront of the digital era. Ocado, it should be mentioned, has also been chosen as a partner by other major supermarket groups around the world, including Kroger in the US, Casino in France, Marks & Spencer in the UK, ICA in Sweden and Coles in Australia.

Produce from farms run by Aeon Agri Create // Credit: Aeon


A platform to boost organic production 

Two other key initiatives from Aeon are in the area of organic food. Back in 2017, among the sustainable procurement goals the group set itself was that of boosting the sales ratio of organic products to 5% of all its agricultural products by 2020, also when Tokyo will host the summer Olympics. Aeon says it wants to contribute to “human, social and environmental health” through organic products, furthermore ones that are “cultivated, distributed and consumed naturally.” It also says it is “responding to our customer demands for safer, better tasting, and environmentally friendly food products.” However, while interest in organic produce is on the rise in Japan, “supply of organic products has not caught up with growing consumer demand,” it says, and “organic JAS certified producers in Japan account for only 0.2% of all farmers.” Given this context, in September 2019 the retailer announced another initiative, the new Aeon Organic Alliance (AOA). In a statement, it said this platform will boost the supply of organic products and help farmers overcome the burden of high organic cultivation costs and those incurred due to inefficient distribution, as well as giving them opportunities to gain new skills, exchange information and share and solve issues together. The AOA platform will be used to “centrally manage production, procurement, processing, distribution, and sale of organic agriculture products.”

Organic produce in Bio c’ Bon store in Japan // Credit: Aeon


14 new organic stores in Japan

AOA members will also have access to technological know-how for the acquisition of Global G.A.P. and organic JAS certification. Aeon has acquired such expertise via the 20 farms it directly manages across Japan. The farms are operated by the company Aeon Agri Create and three hold organic JAS (Japanese Agricultural Standard) certification, one of which is the fully organic 16 ha Saitama Hidaka Farm. Aeon’s organic farms will serve as distribution bases that collect products from growers who are members of its organic alliance, thus reducing distribution and delivery costs while also facilitating joint purchasing of materials necessary for cultivation, which in turn lowers costs. Furthermore, an AOA website will share what is happening in stores, including customer feedback, product line-ups, and sales performance, as well as overseas trends and other relevant information. It will also serve as a communication platform for connecting producers. Another group subsidiary, Aeon Topvalu, develops Aeon’s private brand for organics, Topvalu Gurinai, which is sold in group stores across Japan. Also providing a sales outlet for organic produce in Japan are the Bio c’Bon stores operated by Aeon in partnership with French firm Bio c’ Bon. There are now 14 such stores in Japan.

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Prices of US produce drop in Japanese retailers 

Prices of US produce drop in Japanese retailers 


Following the signing of a new FTA between Japan and the US, Japanese retailers have moved promptly to slash prices of US fresh produce. The new trade deal was signed in October 2019, but only came into effect on 1 January 2020. The major beneficiary of the agreement was the fresh produce sector, with the tariffs eliminated on blueberries, cranberries, sweet corn, broccoli and prunes. Other products which will see a staggered elimination of tariffs include fresh cherries and oranges.

According to Japan Times, Retailer Ito-Yokado held a six-day sale during which it cut the price of oranges by 10-20 per cent, while Aeon Retail plans to reduce kiwi prices and Seijo Ishii will discount US nuts.

TAGS: Japan, US, FTA