Ethiopian Government Urges Japan to Lift Ban on Coffee Imports

February 20th, 2009 | by addis portal |

Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) — Ethiopia urged Japan to lift a ban on imports of its coffee, saying the Horn of Africa country has taken measures to prevent pesticide contamination that led Japan to halt purchases last year.

“It’s time to put the Japanese market back and this has already been communicated to them,” Ethiopian Trade Minister Girma Birru said in an interview in the capital, Addis Ababa, on Feb. 17. “I think this is a problem we can leave behind us.”

Japan halted deliveries of coffee from Ethiopia in May after finding “abnormally high” pesticide residues in a shipment of the beans. Japanese officials demanded that Ethiopia find the source of the chemical and prevent future contamination.

Ethiopia is Africa’s biggest coffee producer. Japan had previously purchased about 20 percent of the country’s exports, said Girma, making it the nation’s third-largest market after Germany and Saudi Arabia. Ethiopia exported $525.2 million of coffee in the fiscal year ending July 7, according to the Trade Ministry.

Girma said the coffee shipment that led Japan to halt imports probably was contaminated by growers using sacks that previously contained insecticides or other chemicals. Most Ethiopian coffee is produced by smallholders who grow the beans without chemical sprays, he said.

Mocha beans from Ethiopia are highly regarded in Japan for their distinctive flavor and last year’s ban forced coffee shop owners to seek new blends.

No Beans

“We haven’t been able to offer Mocha coffee since last November because the supplier said they have no supplies of Ethiopian coffee beans,” said Takayasu Ito, a coffee shop manager in Tokyo’s Jimbocho neighborhood.

Japan will lift the ban once it receives assurances from Ethiopia’s government that there are no “reappearance risks,” Hiroyuki Uchimi, chief of the inspection planning section at Japan’s Health Ministry, said in a phone interview on Feb. 18.

Measures taken by Ethiopia to prevent a recurrence of contamination include establishing a laboratory to check for impurities in export coffee.

“We are now going to make clean all the coffee from smallholders or from state farms,” Girma said. “We have everything ready.”

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