Photo/Illutration Journalists from Hong Kong and Taiwan are given a tour of a factory producing dried Japanese persimmons in Date, Fukushima Prefecture, in February 2020. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The United States lifted all restrictions on imports of Japanese food products while the European Union will ease similar rules imposed after the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture.

The moves by the crucial trading partners are expected to spur an expansion of agricultural exports from Japan.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato on Sept. 22 said at a news conference that he “welcomes the U.S. decision made on the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, which will further show the reconstruction of disaster-stricken areas to the international community.” 

The decision in the United States on Sept. 21 reduces the number of countries and regions with such import restrictions to 14, including China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.

The United States had taken incremental steps in lifting its bans on Japanese food products. The latest move removes the remaining 100 items, produced in 14 prefectures, from the restriction list.

They included rice, mushrooms, edible wild plants and leafy vegetables produced in Fukushima Prefecture, as well as shiitake mushrooms grown on raw wood in the Tohoku and Kanto regions.

The EU announced on Sept. 20 that it will ease import restrictions on mushrooms grown in Japan starting on Oct. 10.

According to the agriculture ministry, Japanese officials had explained to their U.S. counterparts the thoroughness of the domestic food inspection system and how it ensures the safety of the products.

In April, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga urged U.S. President Joe Biden to abolish the restrictions.

Washington responded ahead of Suga’s departure to the United States in what will likely be his last overseas trip as prime minister.

The EU’s decision to ease restrictions will also affect certain edible wild plants grown in Fukushima, Miyagi and Gunma prefectures.

Inspection certificates for radioactive material will not be required when these products are exported to the EU.

The products will be the last from Japan requiring the certificates, according to 2020 export data.

Four countries, including Iceland and Norway, are expected to follow the EU’s lead.

Certificates of origin will also no longer be needed for many Japanese products. The issuance of such certificates will decrease by about 70 percent, the ministry said.

Despite the previous restrictions, the United States imported 118.8 billion yen ($1.1 billion) in Japanese food, agricultural and marine products in 2020, the third largest of any country or region, following Hong Kong and China.

The export value of the Japanese products to the EU in 2020 was 48.8 billion yen.

After the triple meltdown at the Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, 55 countries and regions imposed import restrictions on Japanese food.

The ministry is expected to step up its efforts to persuade countries in East and Southeast Asia, major importers of Japanese food products, to ease and abolish their restrictions.

Kato said the U.S. decision will greatly help such efforts.