Sustainable and ethical? What Japan’s new policy means for importers

On 12 May 2021, Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) finalised the Green Food System Strategy (the Strategy). Among other environmental, sustainability and governance (ESG) goals, the Strategy aims to:

  • achieve net-zero emissions in agriculture by 2050
  • encourage imports of sustainably and ethically produced ingredients.

Japan will pursue these targets by adopting more sustainability standards and schemes. Japanese importers will likely adopt certification schemes. Australian exporters may have to show their ESG credentials to access the Japan market.

Japan’s sustainable agriculture goals reflect a broader international trend. This includes the European Union’s Farm to Fork Strategy and the United States’ Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate. Japan is promoting its strategy as a more suitable approach for Asian monsoon economies.

Implications for exporters

Australian agricultural and food exporters should monitor the Strategy’s implementation. They should keep a close eye on commitments made by Japanese food importers.


The need for exporters to give evidence of their ESG credentials is likely to increase. More Japanese investors and importers are integrating the Strategy into their investment and purchasing decisions.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics Procurement Guidelines and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Green Purchasing Guide include examples of ESG requirements.

The Strategy is similar to the EU’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Food Business and Marketing Practices. Both reflect the demand for more transparency into the sustainability credentials of food products.

Summary of the Strategy

The Strategy aims to create a sustainable food system by improving environmental, social and economic results. The Strategy’s targets include the following:

  • Net zero emissions from primary industries (by 2050)
  • Increase organic farming area to one million hectares (by 2050)
  • 50% reduction in agri-chemical use (by 2050)
  • 30% reduction in chemical fertiliser use (by 2050)
  • 30% greater productivity by food manufacturers through automation (by 2030)
  • Sustainable sourcing of imported ingredients by the Japanese food manufacturing industry (by 2030).

Stakeholder groups have expressed support for the Strategy. For example, the large supermarket chain Aeon has a Sustainable Procurement Policy / 2020 Target. One goal is to have a third party certify that its private-label brands follow good agricultural practices.

Market overview

  • Japan is Australia’s second most valuable agriculture, fisheries and forestry export market. It is worth an average of $5.7 billion from 2017 to 2020 (Source: ABS 2021).
  • Japan is a mature, high-value market where the following are important considerations for consumers:
    • social licence
    • sustainability
    • genetically modified organisms
    • healthy food
    • environmental protection.
  • In 2015, the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement came into force. It provided preferential access for Australian exporters ahead of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Australian exporters enjoy the same conditions under the CPTPP as other parties to that agreement


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