TT-586 -- Can China Choke Japan's Food Supply? e-biz news from Japan

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A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, October 17, 2010, Issue No. 586


- What's New
- Short Takes
- News
- Candidate Roundup/Vacancies
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Three weeks ago in Terrie's Take 583, we covered the raised
tensions induced by the arrest of a Chinese fishing boat
skipper in Japanese territorial waters, and the subsequent
backing down by the Japanese side. That article created a
lot of feedback, both agreeing and disagreeing with the
conclusion that the Chinese are engaging in a power game
and Japan needs to stand firm or risk descending a slippery
slope of accelerating Chinese demands.

Over these three weeks some of the tension had started to
unwind, but now with the last couple of days of
demonstrations by Chinese student protesters and others,
the tensions are back again. Given that in China few
demonstrations can take place without permission, one
wonders what the Chinese government is really up to.
Surely they have made a point and it's time to get back to

But at this point, business is still taking a back seat to
politics. Apart from the riots, this can be seen from the
fact that rare earth exports have barely resumed to Japan,
with the Japanese Minister of Trade saying that only about
40% of firms handling such raw materials are seeing some
improvement in trade flows. Instead, most trading houses
are saying they are either getting no shipments or that
they are getting stuck in Chinese customs. If this situation
continues for another couple of months, it will start to
become serious.

This situation of China being able to choke off Japan for
certain commodities got us to thinking. What else does
China make that Japan vitally needs and would be severely
hurt if they couldn't get it?

In particular, what about food?

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

If you do the shopping in your household, you'll not be
surprised to learn that a substantial amount of food
originates in China these days, especially fresh
vegetables. Such products are typically 30%-40% cheaper
than Japanese-sourced veges and despite many housewives
feeling uneasy about fears of heavy metals and other
contamination, the prices are too hard to ignore and
resistance to buying has faded. Indeed, in some cases,
there are now few alternative producers left in Japan.

Japan is actually the world's largest net importer of
vegetables and other agricultural products. Apart from
China, her other major suppliers are the USA, Australia,
Canada, and Thailand. In terms of fresh veges only
Australia really competes against China, but even then only
on a quality and seasonal basis. Australia is
not equipped to move quickly to fill any short-term void
that may be created by a trade war with China.

In August, Japan imported about 44,000 tons of fresh and
refrigerated veges, up 18% over last year because of a poor
growing season caused by lots of heat, rain, and recently,
cloud. Of these imports, which account for roughly 4.5%
(found by dividing by 44k tons x 12 months by 94.2kg annual
per capita consumption and multiplying by 127m people) of
the overall vegetable tonnage delivered to Japanese
consumers, about 60% comes from China. Most of these veges
are from Japanese-owned or contracted gardening operations,
but given that it is perishable, it would be an easy matter
for shipments to get held up in customs and for supply to
be considerably disrupted. But does it matter?

Our take is that although Japan is now only 40% self sufficient
for food in terms of calorific intake, it's pretty clear that the 3%
or so of veges from China don't yet pose any overall threat to
Japan. Yes, there would be a huge disruption in onions,
garlic, nuts, bell peppers, beans, and other similar veges,
but these are things we can live without for a while.

However, the current situation does make it obvious to both
the Japanese authorities and trading companies that they
have to do something to create alternatives to the food
umbilical cord that is forming with China. This can be
achieved both by finding supplier alternatives such as
Russia and Vietnam, and by improving the output of Japan's
own agricultural sector.

The most immediate improvement in self-sufficiency can be
had by pushing forward aggressively with the nation's vege
"factories". Hydroponics and a diet change by consumers
moving away from "heavy" vegetables such as potatoes
and daikon, to lighter ones such as salad greens and
sprouts is making such factories very viable. Another
important move, but one that will take longer to achieve,
is the reform of the laws around the use and ownership of
farm land, so that it becomes possible for
corporations to operate much larger farms than aging
farming families are able to do at present.

Food security strategies assume that we need such
alternatives. In fact, our take is that we don't think the
Chinese will use food as a point of leverage unless
things get really serious -- certainly they won't use it
as leverage. As good students of history they will recall
the shock value that the U.S. soy bean embargo had
on Japan back in the 70's and how it drove Japan to
diversify and remove that threat.

Rather, what China wants is to keep needling Japan
into making concessions and to avoid precipitation
into something a lot nastier.


Lastly, you'll have noticed that we are running short takes
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Did you know that joining the club is completely free? All
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+++ NEWS

- Businesses increasingly pessimistic
- Gearing up for Tamiflu season
- New EV sharing service
- Hedge fund numbers recover
- Females under 30 get more pay

-> Businesses increasingly pessimistic

A Mainichi newspaper survey has found that the leadership
of Japan's major corporations are pessimistic about the
economy, with 17% saying it was worsening and 64% saying it
was flat. This compares to no one saying it was worsening 6
months ago, and only 37% saying it was flat. More than half
the companies polled think that the government should cut
corporate taxes to help ease the situation. (Source: TT
commentary from, Oct 17, 2010)

-> Gearing up for Tamiflu season

Chugai Pharmaceutical has said that it has stocked up 27%
more doses of Tamiflu for this winter than it did last
year. The company has enough for 12.4m patient treatments.
Chugai made JPY76.2bn in revenues from Tamiflu last year,
and although it is stocking up, it says that it expects a
milder year for flu than 2009. (Source: TT commentary from, Oct 15, 2010)

-> New EV sharing service

Coat-tailing on the twin trends of shared rental cars and
electric vehicles (EV) going mainstream, Orix Auto and
Nihon Unisys have formed a group to start an EV car sharing
service in Osaka. The new service will start with 12 Nissan
Leaf cars this year, and expand to at least 50 units by
2013. Rental rates have not yet been decided, but in other
areas where car-sharing is popular, the rates typically run
around JPY6,000/month. ***Ed: This is a service that may be
a lot more popular than Orix thinks, since it will give EV
potential buyers an "ownership" experience that goes far
beyond just test-driving a Leaf at the local Nissan auto
dealership.** (Source: TT commentary from, Oct
14, 2010)

-> Hedge fund numbers recover

Hedge fund tracking consultancy Rogers Investment Advisors
reckons that the number of new hedge funds focusing on the
Japan markets is at its highest level in four years, with
as many as 27 funds in action. Although the market for
Japan funds has taken a huge beating since the peak in
April 2006, with investment assets dropping 65% in value,
apparently the new wave of funds are being set up by prop
traders anticipating the incoming U.S. Dodd-Frank legislation
which will ban banks from trading on their own account.
(Source: TT commentary from, Oct 14,

-> Females under 30 get more pay

The Internal Affairs Ministry says that Japanese females
under 30 last year (2009) made more money on a monthly
salary basis than did their male counterparts. Opinions are
that both the impact of the global economic problems
coupled with the fact that more women are being employed in
recession-proof healthcare jobs are the main reasons. Young
women made an average JPY218,156/month versus JPY215,515
for young men, and their salaries have risen 11.4% above
where they were five years ago. Conversely, young mens'
income has fallen 7%. (Source: TT commentary from, Oct 17, 2010)

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.



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