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Japan Considers a Ban on Chinese Spinach Due to Pesticide Residue
(from September 16, 2002)

Last week Japanese government officials signed revisions to the Food Sanitation Law allowing the government to ban the import of foods that may be hazardous. Frozen spinach from China is the first food considered under the new regulations. Fierce controversy rages as China claims the ban would violate World Trade Organization rules.

According to the Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the recently revised law allows the government to impose import bans on foods from specific countries or regions if "a considerable number of violations" by foreign producers, including hygiene management failures or inadequate pesticide control, could be verified. "Unless the Chinese government can show us it is willing to implement clear preventive measures against such violations, we will just have to go ahead with import bans," a ministry official said.

This controversy is growing, even within the Japanese government. The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, has expressed concerns about the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry's move, as one official said: "A total ban on imports would hurt those producers who don't break the rules. I think bans should be avoided as much as possible in order to maintain free trade."

No decisions will be made until after the Japan-China talks scheduled for later this month.

China is not the only country that has faced importation restrictions on food due to excessive pesticide use. There has been friction between the United States and Japan regarding imported foods since the late 1980's. The Japanese government has put pressure on the US over excessive pesticides on oranges, and has a quarantine on US apples.

While many countries claim that the tightened restrictions are a form of protectionism, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi told Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen during a meeting in Beijing that Japanese consumers were "extremely sensitive to food safety issues."