Beef ban to be lifted as Kenny trade visit to Japan begins
Post-BSE measure to be removed as greater links sought with vast market
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is due to meet Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe (above), today. Photograph: Toru Hanai/Reuters
Japan is expected to announce an end to its 13-year ban on Irish beef today during a visit by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, reopening the world’s third-largest market to imports.
Mr Kenny arrived in Tokyo yesterday for a five-day stay with the largest delegation of Irish businesspeople since the 2008 global economic crash.
“We feel that this is an ideal time for Ireland to do further business with Japan and for Japan to use and work with Ireland as a gateway to Europe, ”the Taoiseach said yesterday. “This is still a very thriving economy despite the recession they’ve had. One of the countries they want to do business with is Ireland.”
Irish beef exports to Japan were worth about €10 million when the ban was imposed after the BSE outbreak in 2000. Sources close to Mr Kenny’s team said they expect the trade to recover quickly and top that figure.
Food and drinks
The delegation with Mr Kenny includes the head of Enterprise Ireland, Julie Sinnamon; Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Simon Coveney; and over 30 senior representatives from Irish industry and the food and drink sector.
They arrive in Japan during a period of soaring tensions with neighbouring China, which has imposed a new air defence zone around islands claimed by both Asian superpowers.
Mr Kenny, who is due to meet Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, today, said Ireland’s history with Britain showed the best way to deal with disputes is through dialogue. “These are powerful countries, and yet a small country like Ireland can give valuable lessons that have been learned through experience over the years, and I intend to have a discussion about that.”
It will be the two men’s first meeting since Mr Abe extended an invitation during his visit to Ireland in June.
The Taoiseach will spend the week promoting the Irish economy and talking to Irish and Japanese businesspeople. He is due to address a symposium on green energy to highlight Irish high-tech firms, and give a keynote speech on Ireland-Japan relations to business and political delegates.
Ms Sinnamon said Mr Kenny’s visit was “crucial” to endorsing Irish companies: “It gives them prestige and opens doors for them with major Japanese clients.”
She said a highlight of the trip is a scheduled tour of lean manufacturing at Toyota Motor, the world’s largest carmaker, on Wednesday. “Lean manufacturing has really been crucial in terms of helping Irish companies regain their competitiveness.”
Ireland ran a €1.4-billion trade surplus with Japan last year, exporting over two billion euro in goods. The two countries have a €5-billion bilateral trade relationship.
Irish exporters are hoping for a larger chunk of Japan’s food market, which is heavily reliant on imports. Mr Kenny said only four countries have access to Japan’s market for beef. “Ireland would be the fifth. That would be very important as another outlet for valuable cuts.”
Mr Kenny began his visit to Tokyo with a trip to Meiji Shrine, dedicated to the emperor who oversaw Japan’s 19th-century transition from a feudal economy to regional superpower. He took part in a traditional Shinto religious rite before drinking a cup of ceremonial sake.
The deputy chief priest of the shrine, Shigehiro Miyazaki, said the spirit of the Meiji Emperor was “watching over” the Taoiseach during his visit and praying for the prosperity of Ireland.
Mr Kenny said he would take his message to the Japanese people. “Here’s a lesson of a small country working very hard . . . in facing up to their problems and making really difficult decisions.”