Food products fraudulently mislabeled as Japanese brands that are registered with the government’s Geographical Indication protection system are being sold overseas, mainly in China.
These brands are considered high-quality local specialty products from Japan.
Research by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry found counterfeit versions of brands from 17 locations in Japan, including Kobe beef, for sale on overseas websites.
The number of fake Japanese food brands has increased four-fold from the previous year, and some feel the system created to protect and promote Japanese products is being exploited.
An official of JA Minami Shinshu, an agricultural cooperative in Iida, Nagano Prefecture, was angry after learning that dried persimmon fruits produced in China are being sold on the internet bearing the name Ichida Gaki, a local specialty brand produced in the region.
“If counterfeit products become widespread, the value of genuine Ichida Gaki persimmons will fall. Unless sales of fakes are stopped as soon as possible, we cannot export our products with a sense of security,” the offical said.
Ichida Gaki dried persimmons, which are known for their sweetness, are only produced in and near the city. The brand was registered under the protection system in July 2016. The premium persimmons can cost about 93 cents each. In addition to domestic sales, about 30 tons are exported annually to Taiwan.
Chinese-made matcha powdered green tea mislabelled as Nishio no Matcha, a brand produced in Aichi Prefecture’s Nishio region, is also being sold online.
Hiroyasu Inagaki, 53, a farmer in the city who produces Nishio no Matcha, expressed concern, saying, “While exports are increasing, (counterfeit products) affect my business.”
The agriculture ministry searched for Geographical Indication-registered brands on 82 major online shopping sites overseas from June 2017 to February. The ministry confirmed that conterfeit famous Japanese food brands, including Yubari Melon of Yubari, Hokkaido; Matsusaka Ushi beef of Matsusaka, Mie Prefecture; and Oita Kabosu citrus of Oita Prefecture were being sold.
About 80 percent of the websites were based in China. Counterfeit products were being sold on websites in Brazil and the United States.
The ministry suspects that most of the products discovered were counterfeit, and 662 were confirmed as being fake.
The ministry demanded online retailers selling such products remove the counterfeit Japanese brands listed on their sites.
To prevent the sale of counterfeit products and unauthorized use of brand names, it is necessary for countries to sign bilateral agreements for their protection.
Japan signed a similar agreement with the European Union in December. Under the agreement, for example, Japanese-made cheese products cannot use the name Gorgonzola, which is a recognized Italian brand of cheese.
If unauthorized use of brand names is discovered, under the agreement, the government of the country where the fraudulent mislabeling has occurred is responsible to halt sales.
Japan also plans to sign such agreements with Thailand and Vietnam soon. However, it is unlikely an agreement can be made between Japan and China.
Yumi Ogose of Tokyo University of Science, an expert on intellectual property policy studies, said: “Japan should raise the brand recognition of GI-registered products in other countries and demonstrate the fact that the brands are strictly controlled. Japan should also sign bilateral protection agreements as soon as possible so that the brand names are not easily abused.”