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September 20, 2017

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Japan envoy calls on Taiwan to lift food ban

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A top Japanese envoy on Tuesday called on Taiwan to lift its import restrictions on products from Japan's nuclear-affected areas as soon as possible, as annual trade and economic talks between both sides kicked off in Taipei.

During his opening remarks, Japan Interchange Association (JIA) chairman Mitsuo Ohashi discussed Taiwan's ban on some Japanese food products following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011.

He said he wanted to thank Taiwan's government for their ongoing efforts in moving toward lifting the ban.

Ohashi said Tokyo had heard some "ungrounded accusations" about Japanese food imports to Taipei, which he said had "seriously hurt the feelings of people in Fukushima and other parts of Japan."

"The ban is an issue we took seriously, and we hope Taiwan can soon lift its restrictions on Japanese food products," he noted.

Ohashi made the remarks during the opening ceremony of the 41st Taiwan-Japan Trade and Economic Meeting held in Taipei on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

The government had imposed a ban on the import of food produced in the five nuclear-affected prefectures of Japan — Gunma, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, and Chiba —following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

It further tightened restrictions when products from these prefectures were discovered on shelves in Taiwan last year, drawing strong criticism from the Japanese government.

Since the Democratic Progressive Party regained power in May, many have speculated that the new administration could soon lift the ban.

The Taiwan-Japan Trade and Economic Meeting has been the only official platform for Taiwanese and Japanese officials to discuss issues of mutual concern since diplomatic relations between the two countries were severed in 1972. It has been held annually since 1976.

The Japanese delegation was headed by Ohashi, while the Taiwanese delegation was headed by his Taiwanese counterpart Chiou I-jen (邱義仁), chairman of the Association of East Asian Relations (AEAR, 亞東關係協會).

The two groups are quasi-official organizations set up by their respective governments to handle bilateral affairs in the absence of official ties.

Food Import Issue 'won't be touched on'

Ohashi's call came a day after Foreign Minister David Lee's (李大維) pledge Monday that the issue would not make it onto the agenda of the two-day meeting.

Asked to comment, Tsai Ming-yaw (蔡明耀), secretary-general of AEAR, again stressed that the food import issue would not be touched on during the Taipei meeting.

"The Japanese side is simply expressing their concern about the issue they care most, as they have always believed Taiwan's ban on Japanese food imports is not based on scientific evidence," he said.

He noted the decision to lift the ban is not the responsibility of the Foreign Ministry and said the government has consistently maintained that safeguarding the health of Taiwanese people is its top priority.

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