Ireland is projected to become one of the major suppliers of dairy products in Japan, according to Japanese dairy industry leaders.

While Japan consumes more than 300,000t of cheese annually, just 50,000t is domestically produced. As a result, the country is heavily reliant on cheese imports – mostly from North America and Europe.

Yesterday, speaking at the ‘Japan Ireland Sustainable Dairy Seminar’ in Tokyo, Naoyuki Motomura – chairman of the Japan Imported Cheese Promotion Association – said the country imported approximately 4,000t of cheese from Ireland in 2016 – a fraction of Japan’s total imports of more than 240,000t of natural cheese.

However, on the back of a growing cheese consumption culture in Japan, Motomura said Ireland already surpassed its 4,000t import mark last September.

He is confident that demand will continue to flourish.

“We believe we will import a lot of cheese from Ireland. Processed cheese is our main stream product, we mostly import material used to make processed cheese from Ireland.

However, I believe there are many types of cheese available in Ireland, mould cheese and Camembert, so we hope to import more table cheese for our consumers.

“Ireland produces wonderful cheese so we hope to see future growth, I hope Ireland and Japan will be successful as good partners,” he said.

Motomura was speaking to more than sixty Japanese influential dairy buyers, importers and food service operators, the Department of Agriculture, Bord Bia, Teagasc and Ireland’s leading dairy exporters at the government’s Irish agri-food trade mission event.

Hiroyuki Miyagahara, deputy general manager of the confectionery, dairy products, food and beverage division at Mitsui and Company – one of the largest trading companies in Japan – echoed this optimism.

Japan is the fourth biggest import country in the world for dairy products. The country needs to import almost 40% of its entire milk demand. Japan imports 4.5 million dairy products.

“Less and less people are engaged in farming and the agricultural industry; dairy product imports including milk; butter; natural cheese; and powder butter, will become more and more important.

Diversifying imports

“Historically the sources of dairy products into Japan include Australia and New Zealand; but, in order to secure stable supply we have been diversifying imports.

“After the removal of milk quotas in 2015, EU imports increased from 23% in 2015, to 28% in 2016. Ireland is seen as the country with the highest potential in term of dairy products.

I believe Ireland will become one of the major suppliers of dairy products in Japan. We would like to closely work with Ireland.

The seminar focused on building sustainable trade relationships between the two nations and included detailed presentations from senior Irish and Japanese officials on food safety controls, dairy market updates and trends, free trade agreements and Origin Green – Ireland’s food and drink sustainability programme.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, opened proceedings, while Japan’s former Minister for Agriculture, Fishery and Forestry, Yuji Yamamoto, provided delegates with an insight into Japanese government policy and procedures.

Addressing the delegation Tara McCarthy, CEO of Bord Bia, spoke about building upon existing trade relationships.

“Japan is already one of Ireland’s top 10 trading partners, with a strong and diverse flow of trade between our two countries.

“The new trade agreement between the EU and Japan, which was agreed earlier this year, can only develop this further. This new trading environment will be particularly beneficial to our food and drink sector and that means there’s probably never been a better time to introduce you to Ireland’s world class, sustainable dairy industry.”

Ireland’s total dairy exports to Japan in 2016 came to over €17 million with cheese accounting for an estimated 70% of value. In volume terms, Ireland exported 5,568t to Japan in 2016.