Consumers in Japan and Europe want Guarantees for a Positive Trade Agreement

Consumers Union of Japan and The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) would like to provide input on the EU-Japan trade agreement. The technical negotiations between Japan and the EU are about to start and the final agreement will cover a broad range of economic sectors and inevitably affect consumers. This phase provides the opportunity for both sides to demonstrate that trade can deliver to consumers.

Commissioner Cecilia Malmström
European Commission
Rue de la Loi, 200 1049 Brussels Belgium

Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko
Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Cabinet Secretariat
1-6-1 Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100 – 8968, Japan

September 6, 2017

Subject: Consumers in Japan and Europe want guarantees for a positive trade agreement

Dear Commissioner Malmström,
Dear Minister Seko,
Dear Minister Kono,

Consumers Union of Japan and The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) would like to provide input on the EU-Japan trade agreement. The technical negotiations between Japan and the EU are about to start and the final agreement will cover a broad range of economic sectors and inevitably affect consumers. This phase provides the opportunity for both sides to demonstrate that trade can deliver to consumers.

Place consumers at the heart of the agreement
A trade agreement is not only about getting better market access for companies. It is also about delivering real benefits to consumers while ensuring they are protected. Unfortunately, the benefits for consumers are not yet clear. This is because consumer benefits have not been placed at the heart of the agreement at the early stages of the process. For this to happen, we recommend applying the checklist in attachment to the entire agreement.

Better involve consumer organisations
Modern trade agreements like the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement are supposed to be designed for all, including consumers. For this to happen, consumer organisations must be involved in the negotiations phase and beyond. If properly involved in the negotiating and implementing processes, consumer organisations can provide constructive input and contribute to a deal which benefits consumers. We call on you to explicitly mention consumer organisations as stakeholders in the article on the domestic advisory group of the Chapter for Trade and Sustainable Development.

Refrain from including an investor to State dispute settlement
Investor to State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) systems have proven harmful to consumers and the public interest in the past, as foreign investors have used them to challenge and undermine consumer protections. Despite some improvements proposed by the EU with the Investment Court System and the idea of creating a multilateral court, there are high risks for consumers. Foreign investors will still be able to threaten governments with lawsuits for compensation when governments, for example, adopt ambitious laws that protect consumers. This could deter governments from introducing new protections and lead to a regulatory chill. Moreover, we need to see empirical evidence of the need for such a system between the EU and Japan which would only protect investors and keep foreign direct investment flowing. Therefore, our organisations call on you to refrain from introducing such systems in the final agreement.

Ensure better food labelling rules

This trade agreement should improve food labelling rules so that Japanese consumers have at least the same level of information as consumers in Europe. This is especially the case for food additives, the right to know what foods are genetically modified or not, and which foods contain, consist of or are obtained from GMOs. Country of origin labels should be encouraged as they provide consumers with the right to know where food is coming from.

Make sure regulatory dialogue benefits and protects consumers
Dialogue between EU and Japanese regulators should have the firm objective to enhance consumer welfare. These regulatory exchanges must remain voluntary. However, a trade agreement is not the place to define guidelines on good regulatory practices, notably as Governments want to protect their right to regulate.

Transparency must continue
Transparency is a precondition for people to trust trade agreements. We welcomed the publication of the agreed texts on the EU side by the time of the political conclusion. To restore consumer trust in trade deals, we urgently call on both sides to publish their negotiating positions, texts, including consolidated versions, and communicate better on the content of the future agreement during this technical phase. In particular, the agreed texts must be translated into Japanese and published as soon as possible.

We trust that you will take our views into account and we remain at your disposal for further discussion.

Yours sincerely,

Monique Goyens
Director General
European Consumer Organisation

Ono Kazuoki & Amagasa Keisuke
Consumers Union of Japan

Posted September 6th, 2017 in Food, Trade

Campaign Against Artificial Fragrances

In recent years, there are an increasing number of people who are feeling sick because of artificial fragrances such as fabric softeners, deodorant sprays and antiperspirants. People feel that it is difficult to get on the train, as people wash their clothes but do not dry them outdoors properly. But some people also react to the strong smell of laundry hanging on verandas in their neighborhoods.

There are reports of various symptoms, including nausea, feeling irritated, coughing, eye trouble, sneezing, heart pounding, and headaches.

Consumers Union of Japan strongly believes we need to make sure that people are not put in harm’s way by unnecessary artificial fragrance products.

We are stepping up our campaign by opening a phone line for complaints and consultation on July 26 and August 1 (in Japanese only). We do wish to hear from everyone living in Japan so please send us an email with your concerns and experiences, in English.

Email: office.w (at mark)

Posted July 18th, 2017 in Chemical pollution

GM Food Awareness Survey Conducted by Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency

The Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA), in initiating a GM Food Labelling Investigative Committee, has conducted a consumer awareness survey. The web survey was implemented between 12 December 2016 and 4 January 2017. The total number of respondents was 10,648 (5296 males and 5352 females).

According to the results of the survey, regarding awareness of recombinant DNA, 69.6% responded that they “knew of or had heard of” it. 61.3% responded that they “knew of or had heard of” safety screening.

In response to the question “Are you anxious about GM food?” 40.7% replied “Yes”, 11.4% replied “No”. Excepting those who responded “I don’t care” or “I don’t know”, around 80% of respondents say they harbor anxieties about GM food. In addition, 83.0% of the people who responded either “Yes” or “No” to the question “Are you anxious about GM food?” are avoiding the consumption of GM food.

Source: CBIC Bio Journal (July, 2017)

Posted July 12th, 2017 in Biotechnology, Food

Japan Resources – No 167

Please click here CUJ-JR-167 for the latest issue of Consumer Union of Japan’s English newsletter, Japan Resources (PDF). This time we focus on healthy, organic food and farming, while taking a stand against PM Abe and his ruling coalition, that has rammed through controversial legislation, bill after bill, threatening our civil rights.

We hope you will continue to stay updated with CUJ’s activities and news on our English website, and support our campaigns!


From the Editors: Stop the Abe Train!

Organic Rice for School Lunch

Update: Bhutan Organic Rice Project

Street Events with the “Moms’ Project to Change our Food in Japan!”

Event: The International Day for Biological Diversity

Organic Lifestyle Expo

Statement: Reject the Anti-Conspiracy Bill

Posted June 21st, 2017 in Biodiversity, Civil Rights, Japan Resources, Organic Agriculture/Food

Update: Bhutan Organic Rice Project

The project to explore ways to help farmers in Bhutan switch to organic farming methods is progressing. This is an update by Mitsukuni Inaba (Director of Civil Institute of Organic Rice Cultivation) and Koa Tasaka (Co-chair of CUJ and board member of Asian Rural Institute) from their visit on May 28 – June 4, 2017.

Rice farming in paddy fields means weeds may be growing in the water before the rice is transplanted into the soil. Removing the weeds by hand tools, such as a rake, or machines rather than by using chemical herbicides is a requirement for organic rice farming. In Bhutan the prevalent weed is called Shouchum (Pondweed, Lat. Potamogeon). Flooding the paddy fields repeatedly will assist in removing the weeds, as they float to the surface after careful raking. On May 29 and May 30, Mr Inaba led the effort to flood two experimental fields for a third time together with Bhutan farmers and Japanese volunteers, and remove the weeds. Transplanting the seedlings was possible at the first farm, and organic fertilizer was applied to promote the growth of the rice plants as well as to suppress the weeds.

bhutan organic consumers union of japan

On June 1, the group visited the Bajo Seed Center. At their paddy fields, a lot of Shouchum grows and is usually removed with Butachlor, a synthetic herbicide that is known to be toxic. “At first, I was overwhelmed by the strong power of the native weed, Shouchum, which had grown so rapidly, and thought it would be very difficult to remove it,” notes Mr Inaba. “However, after watching them for a while I came up with a new idea: To plow them into the soil! Then, under the anaerobic condition, the weeds will be fermented and produce large amounts of butyric acid which will damage the bulb of Shouchum and the roots of other weeds as well. In this way, all the weeds would be suppressed effectively.”

Transplantation was done the following day. “We were amazed at the excellent operation by a Bhutan operator,” says Mr Inaba. “The operation of the transplanting machine is difficult, but he managed with great success.” Three types of rice were transplanted: A Japanese variety called Sasanishiki, and a local rice variety grown either in a regular nursery bed or in a pot-type nursery bed. Concludes Mr Inaba: “Many people participated in this activity of transplantation, and we feel enormous gratitude to those who joined us! At the next visit, we will check on the success or failure of the three types of young rice plants, the growth at an early stage, and the tilling situation, and look for the condition and possibility of a stable good yield.”

The next visit will be in the beginning of July, 2017, with a focus on weed control and preparation for soy bean planting. The project is supported by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Read more here (E).



Posted June 21st, 2017 in Biodiversity, Organic Agriculture/Food