Japan has been slathered with a butter conundrum.
The nation’s import regulations, which give domestic farmers a highly competitive edge, have also lead to a massive disadvantage for importers of the rich yellow bread spread, who have contended with a price tag in June that’s three times larger than their international counterparts, ¥1,374 per kilogram as opposed to ¥387 ($3.125).
News On Japan reported on the growing price disparity on Tuesday, before explaining: “butter allows for the entry of foreign-made products, with which domestically produced butter cannot compete on price. The Japanese government is controlling import volume to protect domestic dairy farmers, by methods including the imposition of tariffs.”
This controversy comes on the heels of Japan’s umpteenth butter shortage in May, when demand reached more than 7000 times the supply, according to The Telegraph. The article also outlines other factors in the shortage, such as a shrinking population that has lead to agricultural downsizing and heat waves in the farm-rich region of Hokkaido that left cows too exhausted to produce milk.
In July, The Wall Street Journal reported that the butter shortage had forced beloved baker Narikazu Matsui to impose a purchase limit of five rolls per customer. This is just one of the many day-to-day quandaries that has prompted experts to push for a loosening of Japan’s dairy tariffs. The Journal quoted Robert Pettit, trade policy manager at Dairy Australia, as saying: “The Japanese industry has been in a long-term decline. Free trade would offer a shot in the arm. It reinvigorates an industry.”
But that will be a tough sell for Japan’s highly powerful farmers cooperatives, who insist that the solution lies with higher production of domestic milk and how, according to the Journal, fly banners in Hokkaido that read: “Let’s protect Japan’s food, livelihoods and lives.”