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The European Union announced on Thursday that it would lift the remaining import restrictions on certain regional foods from Japan that were implemented after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, as cooperation between the world's largest trading bloc and major Asian democracies expands rapidly in almost all areas.
The announcement was made at the Japan-EU summit held in Brussels, where leaders agreed to strengthen supply chains for critical industries and raw materials, and to cooperate more closely in areas such as maritime security and cyberspace against imperialist Russia, given the increasing confidence of both China and the EU.
As part of efforts to enhance communication on security issues, the two sides decided to establish a strategic dialogue at the level of foreign ministers.
"We welcome the EU's increased engagement in the Indo-Pacific region," said Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during a press conference following his meeting with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Their joint statement listed various concerns arising from China's actions, including its "opaque nuclear construction." However, the leaders emphasized the importance of "frank engagement and direct expression of our concerns."
The statement stated, "Given China's role and economic scale in the international community, cooperation with China is crucial in the face of global challenges and common interests."
Japan's relationship with Europe has deepened further in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. However, it took some time for Tokyo to convince the 27-country bloc to lift the control measures that subjected seafood and agricultural products from Fukushima and nine other prefectures to radioactive testing and safety certification.
Von der Leyen stated at the press conference that the lifting of the restrictions was based on scientific evidence.
Before the EU made this decision, the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded last week that Japan's plan to discharge treated radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant met safety standards and did not pose risks to human health or the environment.
On the second day of attending the NATO summit in Lithuania, Kishida visited the capital of Belgium.
He welcomed the EU's decision, stating that it would support the recovery of Fukushima and the surrounding regions, which were devastated by the nuclear power plant meltdown triggered by a major earthquake and tsunami.
Japanese officials stated that if all procedures go smoothly within the EU, these measures could be lifted in early August.
With the lifting of the EU restrictions, there will be a total of 11 countries and regions maintaining such import controls, including China, South Korea, and Hong Kong. Officials said that Iceland and Norway, which primarily adopt EU import standards, may also lift these restrictions.
Driven by the popularity of Japanese cuisine worldwide, Japan's exports of food and agricultural products to the EU increased by 8.2% to 68 billion yen ($490 million) in 2022, more than doubling in the past decade.
As in recent years, Japanese and EU leaders pledged to closely cooperate in emerging technologies such as energy security, climate change, outer space, and artificial intelligence.
Kishida stated that he plans to hold an online meeting on artificial intelligence with leaders of the Group of Seven major democratic economies, possibly in the autumn of this year.
Japan and the EU typically hold a leaders' summit once a year. The last summit was held in Tokyo in May 2022.
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