Photo/IllutrationThe Asahi Shimbun

The Abe administration is unlikely to meet its 1 trillion yen ($9.5 billion) export goal for agricultural, forestry and fishery products in 2019, figures for the first six months of the year indicate.

Exports of the products, including processed foods, increased by 2.9 percent on a year-on-year basis to 448.6 billion yen in the period from January to June.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) announced the data on Aug. 9.

Exports hit a record high for the seventh straight year, the ministry reported, but due to the slowdown of the world economy they were a far cry from the 15.2 percent growth in the first half of last year.

Since domestic demand for food is shrinking in Japan due to the population decline, the government set a goal to raise exports to 1 trillion yen to support the country’s agricultural industry. Exports were about 450 billion yen in 2012.

In 2018, Japanese food products experienced a global boom, and exports climbed to 906.8 billion yen. To meet the government's 1 trillion yen goal, exports would have to rise by 10.3 percent in 2019.

However, the export figures for 2019's first half show sluggish exports in key destinations for Japan.

Growth in Hong Kong, the top importer of Japanese food products, was just 2.7 percent. It was 17.3 percent in the first half of 2018. Exports to Taiwan fell by 4.4 percent, South Korea by 2.7 percent and Thailand by 6.5 percent.

Exports of products popular among the wealthy also dropped from last year. Strawberries fell by 18.7 percent, scallops by 30 percent and apples by 8.9 percent.

“The economic situation of the countries or regions we export to is definitely hurting our exports,” an MAFF representative said.

Factors including the global economic slowdown and the trade dispute between the United States and China appear to have contributed to the fall in Japanese exports.

Imports also dropped by 0.4 percent to 4.7488 trillion yen in the first six months of 2019.

At the end of 2018, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement and the economic partnership agreement between Japan and Europe took effect. Japanese farmers have been concerned that the trade deals would lower tariffs, causing imports to soar. But beef increased only by 5.3 percent, pork by 2.7 percent, and cheese by 4.9 percent.

“There are no tangible effects (from the trade deals),” said Hiroyuki Bando, a senior managing director of the Hokuren Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives in Sapporo.

The United States, which withdrew from the TPP, asserts that it is put in a disadvantageous position because of the tariffs that favored its competitors, including Australia and Europe.

Regarding the ratio of U.S. food items imported on a weight basis in the first half of 2019, pork dropped 1.6 percentage points from the same period of last year to 26.6 percent. Beef increased by 0.4 percentage point to 39.8 percent.