Taiwan says tighter controls on Japanese food imports temporary

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Tighter controls imposed by Taiwan on Japanese food imports would be temporary and were aimed at uncovering the mislabeling of goods from regions hit by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Taiwan’s president said Monday.

Taiwan last week began enforcing stricter rules on inspecting imported Japanese food products potentially originating in radiation-exposed areas, prompting a warning from Tokyo that it may call on the WTO for a ruling unless the restrictions are eased.

“These are short term measures,” Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou told reporters. “We value our relationship with Japan.”

The two nations should quickly cooperate to determine if the suspect labeling originated in Japan, Taiwan or both countries Ma said.

Earlier this year, Taiwanese authorities said that more than 200 Japanese food products sold on the island originally came from radiation exposed areas near Fukushima Dai-ichi, but were mislabeled as having come from other areas.

Health officials at the time indicated they discovered suspect labeling by importers of Japanese food products, including Chinese-language labels carrying different places of origin that were stuck to mask the products’ domestic Japanese labels.

Ma said the issue was legal, rather than scientific, in response to Japan’s calls for Taiwan to ease or scrap its rules based on a scientific perspective.

The new rules, which went into effect last Friday, allow only foods with Japanese government-issued place of origin certificates to enter Taiwan. Also, certain items from designated places in Japan will need radiation testing reports before they are granted access into Taiwan markets.

Since the rules took effect, only one out of a batch of 30 food imports from Japan did not have the required proof of origin, according to the latest data on Monday from Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare. The suspect batch was a 15.5 kilogram frozen yellowtail fish product, it said.

Taiwan has since March 2011 banned food products from the Japanese prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba. Local media reported in March that food imports from some of those banned prefectures had crept into local supermarkets due to the mislabeling.

(Reporting by J.R. Wu; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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