January 24, 2012
An effort to boost milk exports to other Asian countries is being intensified by the Kumamoto Dairy Cooperative Association, a grouping of dairy farmers in Kumamoto Prefecture.
At present, milk produced in Hokkaido dominates Japan's milk export business because of its brand cachet. But milk producers in Kumamoto are striving to blaze a new trail overseas amid the trend toward globalisation such as Japan's possible signing up for the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal.
Kumamoto farmers export long-life milk that does not need to be refrigerated. The prefectural association first entered the Hong Kong market in February 2007, after which it began business in Taiwan and Shanghai. Exports to Singapore began in January.
Kumamoto produces about 240,000 tonnes of raw milk per year, making it the largest producer in western Japan. But only a fraction of that amount is sold abroad. The number came to just 90 tonnes in fiscal 2010 when exports peaked, according to the Kumamoto association. Much of the milk is exported to Hong Kong.
Finance Ministry data on the other hand show Hokkaido accounted for 2,700 tonnes of a total 2,900 tonnes of Japan's milk exports in fiscal 2010.
Japanese milk producers, meanwhile, are desperately trying to turn around their business. While domestic sales have been stagnant, radiation fears fanned by the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant badly hurt overseas demand for Japanese milk.
In the face of the tough times, the Kumamoto association is setting its sights on the markets of countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam where Hokkaido milk producers have yet to gain a foothold. In Vietnam, the group is planning to set up a cattle ranch.
''We hope to push further into Asian markets to boost the morale of local milk producers whose number is declining,'' an association official said.