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California Heartland


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  Season 8 - Episode 806

  Japan/California Update

Since we last brought you this special edition we have new developments to report on the export front. Japan is still a major market for California agriculture because of price and quality. But the country has slipped from second to third place behind Canada and the European Union. Experts say the main reason is the growth of the other two markets and the Japanese economic picture.

"Their economy was in the doldrums for much of the 1990s and then, too, the last couple of years. They've been growing again recently. But their slow growth in the economy has been a problem." Daniel Sumner, professor of Agricultural Economics at UC Davis, says another problem is tight trade restrictions. Some of those restrictions eased for California rice in 1994, making it the number one California commodity going to Japan. But the state's fourth popular product for that market-beef-is undergoing problems due to the mad cow scare."

"What's been happening for about the last ten months, aggressive, but slow and pretty painful negotiations trying to get the Japanese to open the market, at least partially," said Sumner.

Sumner says there's no evidence of health risks from the young, fat cattle we send to Japan, yet, still, the Japanese have kept the market closed. On the up side, the Japanese have a growing passion for California wines.

"Japanese buy a lot of wine from Europe so we're competing with the French and the Italians there as well as the Australians just like we do in other places in the world. It's a touch market but California's done pretty well there. We expect that market to continue to grow," said Sumner.

Many California wineries are pushing moderately priced varieties to Japan, making them Affordable to price-conscious consumers. Wente Winery in Livermore has been marketing to the Japanese for more than 20 years and continues to increase its exports.

And the Japanese are nuts for California tree nuts. Says Sumner, "Japan is a big market for those products. Almonds and pistachios have been growing there quite rapidly. And that partly reflects the growing supply and availability here in California."

Sumner says overall the future appears bright for the California-Japan connection.



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