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Japan will require crab importers to provide Russian-issued export certificates
October 25, 2012, 10:10 AM
(seafood.com) Following the September 8 signing of the Japan-Russia treaty to prevent poaching and smuggling of crab, a new procedure for Japan's crab imports will be introduced from December at the earliest.

The new procedure will require the submission of the certificate issued by the relevant authorities of the countries of origin, such as Russia, in importing crab.

The Fisheries Agency (FA) and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI)--both of the Japanese government--has been holding briefing sessions in Tokyo and Hokkaido to ensure that the new procedure is accurately understood by parties concerned.

In the waters off Russia, there had been illegal catch of crab and other fishery resources, with the catch being exported to neighboring countries including Japan and Korea.

Since Japan's annual imports of crab from Russia amount to more than 30,000 tons (Actual figure in 2011 was 32,700 tons excluding prepared products), poaching constitutes a serious problem for Japan because it would cause depletion of crab stocks, ultimately leading to supply shortage in Japan.

For this reason, Japan has been holding consultations with Russia since 2002 on the issue of poaching and illegal trade.

The two countries cooperated toward the solution of the issue through expert group meetings. These efforts resulted in the signing of the bilateral treaty last month.

Under the treaty, Japanese importers, in bringing crab into the domestic market, will be required to submit to the Japanese authorities export certificates issued by the Russian government that demonstrate that the crab was caught legally.

This requirement will be applied to all crab (customs numbers 0306/14 and 24), regardless the species and types of commodity (fresh or frozen), including prepared products (1605.10-026).

The FA and METI will set up a new draft import procedure based on the treaty. Concretely, importers first will have to obtain the certificates from Russian exporters.

In case the imported products are frozen and prepared products, they have to submit the certificates to METI. Upon confirming the authenticity of the document, the ministry will issue a preliminary confirmation and forward it to the customs office when the products clear the customs.

When the imported products are non-frozen (i.e. live, fresh or chilled) products, importers will have to submit the certificates to the customs office, which will confirm their authenticity. The different approaches applied to frozen and non-frozen products are due to the concern over deterioration of freshness in case of non-frozen products.

According to METI, it would take several days or a week before the preliminary confirmation is issued after the submission of the certificate. But, in case the certificate is submitted directly to the customs office, the time required for customs clearance will be the same as in previous years. Further, in order to prevent the crab allegedly poached in Russia from entering the Japanese market via a third country or under the guise of other countries' products, new third-country measures will be included in the procedure.

Importers will be obliged to obtain country-of-origin certificate issued by respective authorities. The certificate will have to be submitted to METI in case of frozen products, and to the customs office in case of non-frozen products. (There may be exceptions for prepared products and some types of crab.) To ensure the knowledge on the process of confirmation, the FA and METI conducted briefing sessions in three areas of Hokkaido (Wakkanai, Monbetsu and Sapporo) and Tokyo late in September. Similar sessions are scheduled to be held in Osaka and Fukuoka in October.

The new procedure will be formalized after receiving public comments and conducting the second briefing session in some cities in Japan. It is expected that the new treaty will go into effect in December at the earliest, with the new procedure being introduced.

The treaty provides that Tokyo and Moscow have to exchange information when the Russian authorities issue the certificate and the Japanese counterpart receive it in order prevent falsification of the certificate. The treaty also provides that Russian fishing vessels must install devices to automatically transmit relevant information, such as navigation points and the amount of catch loaded on the ship.

Meanwhile, at the briefing session held in Wakkanai, northern Hokkaido, on September 25, concerns were expressed by participants that the introduction of the new procedure could further dwindle Japan's crab imports, because more crab would be shipped to other countries, such as Korea.

They said that if this situation happened, the regional economy of Wakkanai, which largely depends on imports of crab from Russia would be seriously affected.

Some participants cast doubt over the authenticity of certificates issued by Russia and asked for making a more transparent framework that would ensure the legitimacy of seafood imported to Japan. Other voices called for the need to check the overall quota under coordination among Japan, Korea and China, major crab importers from Russia. The FA responded it will consider monitoring the markets of other countries as well.

To the question on penalty, the agency responded that it will act on Russia so that crab may not be shipped in an unbalanced proportion to countries where punitive measures are less stringent because the penalty system may differ under domestic legislation of importing countries. Some pointed to the conspicuous increase in Korea's crab imports in recent years, expressing the worry that more crab might go to Korea. Others requested the Fisheries Agency to explain at the next briefing session the measures against poaching and smuggling, taken by other countries importing non-frozen crab from Russia (namely, North and South Koreas and China).

The FA responded positively to that request.

Ngọc Hà
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