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EU urges Japan to open up its beer market

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Please open up the beer market in Japan, beer is way too expensive here compared to the U.S. or Germany.

11 ( +13 / -2 )

I've seen liquor stores here that carry nothing but European beers--even those fancy, flavored ones from tiny craft distillers. There are dozens of Belgian and other kinds of beer pubs in the cities. and my regular bars all carry one, and sometimes many more, European, English, and Irish brews. What's the problem? Lower tariffs might get them into more supermarkets, but it won't guarantee any of them shelf space.

-9 ( +6 / -14 )

Frank, it's beer taxes not lack of competition that makes beer expensive here. The lack of comp makes for a narrow range of flavors imho

2 ( +3 / -1 )

YES, YES, YES!

Open up the beer market. Reduce taxes on beer!

9 ( +11 / -2 )

GREAT! Open up the market! Wanna get some good, real beer for an acceptable price. And, sure Stephen, you can get a variety of beers from other countries, but who wants to pay roughly 5oo Yen for a bottle of beer, that is sold for a quarter of this in the respective producing (brewing) country?

8 ( +10 / -2 )

I like Japanese beer but it would be good at a decent price to be able to suck on an ice cold Chez, German, or Dutch beer/pilsner/lager. And in Europe and elsewhere they are so cheap. Also would like to buy a case of Singha occasionally without having to consult my bank manager first.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

"Many of the European beers cannot be marketed as beers in Japan because of insufficient—according to the Japanese legislation—malt content or because they have some ingredients such as coriander," it said.

That is more of blessing than problem. If it is classified as beer, heavy beer tax is levied, whether import or domestic. Japanaese beer makers are trying so hard to make their "beer" classied not as beer but as sparkling alcohol.

Tax table

beer: 220 yen per litre

sparkling alcohol

40% or more malt: 220 yen per litre

25% or more malt: 178 yen per litre

less than 25% malt: 134 yen per litre

0% malt: 80 yen per litre

3 ( +4 / -1 )

CH3CHO,

Your analysis is correct for drinks designated as happoshu rather than beer because of their low malt content. But for drinks which cannot be called 'beer' in Japan for other reasons, usually because of non-standard ingredients, the tax charged is exactly the same as for beer, even if they have to call themselves happoshu. So there is actually no benefit on the tax side, and there is a negative image surrounding the word happoshu which is rightly considered a low-cost, low-quality product driven purely by the domestic tax rules.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Doubt the deal will happen unless the big Japanese breweries get a piece of the action. Think they (and the politicians in their pocket) will sign off on a deal without some form of compensation?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I asked a guy in the industry about wy there was only Japanese beer available at supermarkets & dept. stores and was met with silence...

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Yes this would be awesome! Although you can find a huge range of European beers here already, they are pretty expensive

1 ( +1 / -0 )

premium beers such as Heineken

Heineken, premium? LOL.

sighclops

I asked a guy in the industry about wy there was only Japanese beer available at supermarkets & dept. stores and was met with silence...

You were probably met with silence because he didn't understand your question. Every single grocery store around me carries import beers, and the one I normally go to (a local, non-premium store) carries more imports than domestic beers.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

"What's the problem?"

My favorite and popular izakaya and yakitori place each serve one beer brand. ONE! One serves Asahi, the other Sapporo. If a foreign brand appears on the menu (usually temporarily), it is because it is brewed or imported through a licence by one of those oligopolistic Japanese makers. That...is the problem.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

That...is the problem.

That... is the problem with your particular izakaya. Craft beers and import beers are getting more and more popular, you see them on many menus now. Big pub chains like Hub carry tons of different beers. Heck, even my favorite baseball stadium sells import and craft beers now.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Let's not forget about the forest while looking at the trees. If Japan allows these no tariff imports, what will happen? Cheap products will flood the market and slowly kill off Japanese products. That will result in the loss of jobs all across the board in Japan. It could well be the straw that breaks the camels back. These tariffs are in place for a reason, to keep Japanese workers working. Don't believe me? Take a look at the US economy, it is a consumer economy. How's that working for Americans. It's not working for The US, and it definitely will not work for Japan. The reasons why are too numerous for a comment post.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

but EU countries including France and Germany question Tokyo’s willingness to change often little-known rules and product specifications that Europe says serve as trade barriers.

Gee, according to many of the posters here, it is only the big, bad U.S. that complains about non-trade barriers in Japan. There goes that particular rant.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

how about europe open up ur beer/liquor stores to buy some japanese alcohol. i live in Canada and i dont see any great japanese alcohol in the stores.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

(satirical overgeneralize here) Japan covets their rice and beer above all things. They will never open either market.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Domestic beer in Japan is better on average than some of the beers from its neighbours, especially Korea, but it's still pretty bland by comparison with international beers on the whole. Whenever I'm back home and hit a beer store/liquor store I'm absolutely amazed at how many companies and brands there are, not to mention the vast number of microbreweries' beers, but in Japan it's pretty much all the same thing. Granted, your average Sapporo tastes different than Asahi, and likewise Kirin is different, but within each company there is not much variation on flavor, and it's pretty much all just light ale. The 'seasonal' beers are no different from the regular stuff, and the Happoshu isn't all that different either. For those who say there are nothing but domestic brands for sale, that's not true, but it would still be nice to see a little more variation at reasonable costs, and Japan should indeed open the market a little more. People will still largely buy the domestic stuff.

-2 ( +2 / -5 )

It isn't just beer. What about the ludicrously high price of butter? Now Japanese producers here say they can't keep up with demand and there's shortage. Why don't they import it from New Zealand and other producing countries such as Ireland?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

jerseyboy

Gee, according to many of the posters here, it is only the big, bad U.S. that complains about non-trade barriers in Japan. There goes that particular rant.

Yes, but unlike the US automakers the European brewers actually have a point. The big, BAD (emphasis on bad) US automakers make products that Japanese consumers don't want but complain that they are being prevented from succeeding, when really they just don't know their market very well.

Most European beers can be sold normally in Japan (and many, many are), the issue is that certain types of beer cannot be sold or must be reclassified. Totally different case.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

European beers... mmm. Yes, please!

I'm sick of the mass-produced cat's @*%$ that passes for beer in Japan. It should be called "soma" instead.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Yesterday I commented about Japanese wine( From Shiojiri - Nagano) being really good and at a reasonable price. Now regarding Japanese beer, PLEASE, for the fox sake! It's expensive in the pockets, cheap down your throat.

Though their brands are basically the same, you have more than 20 options of "taste", which the only difference is felt on the price and at the funny English sentences written in the bottles.

Please, let me buy Belgian, German, English, Italian beer for a reasonable price, let me feel the taste of an ALE without having to travel to Tokyo for it, paying 1000 yen for a half pint.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Now regarding Japanese beer, PLEASE, for the fox sake! It's expensive in the pockets, cheap down your throat.

Though their brands are basically the same, you have more than 20 options of "taste", which the only difference is felt on the price and at the funny English sentences written in the bottles.

Plenty of great Japanese craft beers out there! Have you tried any of the Yoho Brewery products? You can get them anywhere in Japan including a huge number of convenience stores. How about Ginga Kogen beers?

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Now, that is a cause I can get behind. Although personally I always prefer locally produced beer.... I don´t like the additivies they add to the export versions.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I can never decide of Japanese beer is cat's or gnat's. Too fizzy as well. The autumn beer is not too bad, if they sold it all year round they'd be on to a winner. I buy import beers but they are too expensive - lower the tariffs now.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

special regulations on everything from beer to music and imported cars.**** LOL yep that abouts sums up J Inc. lets reduce the tarriffs to zero but double the special regulations so the gaijin product is priced out of the market. bring on the TPP, the EU should take a hard line on there FTA with Japan just as the US is doing in the TPP.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I suppose the thumbs down are from people who haven't actually tried beers from the Japanese breweries I mentioned.

Try them.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

The 'seasonal' beers are no different from the regular stuff

As an avid fan of Kirin Aki-aji, I beg to differ.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"That... is the problem with your particular izakaya."

Nope, it's the problem with thousands of establishments throughout Japan, notably the major chains. The supplier system - offering only one beer brand(!!) - is designed to limit choice and to shut out newcomers. Japan repeatedly pledges to abide by the spirit of free trade. It needs to walk the walk.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

offering only one beer brand(!!)

Izakayas are private companies, so they can do what they want. At ordinary restaurants, they usually serve several kinds of beer and wine.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Seiyu were recently selling British beer at prices lower than in the UK.

There was talk about reforming the daft beer duty rules, but I guess that's been abandoned now the election has been called.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@Jeff Lee

Nope, it's the problem with thousands of establishments throughout Japan, notably the major chains.

You've gone from "my favourite izakaya" to "the major chains". You could always adopt a new favourite, based on higher standards and the fact that it doesn't limit you to Japanese beer. I have a few (dozen) favourite places, and none of them confine themselves to local beer. There's no shortage of highly specialized restaurants, izakayas, and bars in Japan, where you can get a great variety of drinks, both local and imported.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Free beer! Forget the trade part!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Yes, but unlike the US automakers the European brewers actually have a point. The big, BAD (emphasis on bad) US automakers make products that Japanese consumers don't want but complain that they are being prevented from succeeding, when really they just don't know their market very well.

Pandabelle -- would be a valid point, if autos were the only category the U.S. has issues with Japan, but there are numerous others -- like drugs, insurance, various agricutural products, etc. But, pay more for lots of things if you like so you can sleep well at night knowing Japan is protecting you from the big, BAD U.S. products.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

"You've gone from "my favourite izakaya" to "the major chains". "

Because the same type of supplier system is employed by both.

"There's no shortage of highly specialized restaurants, izakayas, and bars in Japan, where you can get a great variety of drinks, both local and imported."

I'm going to do something you never do and provide evidence: the link below is from one of Japan's biggest izakaya chains, Watami, which is also one of the country's largest food service operators.

Huge menu....and you'll notice, ONE beer! Suntory Malts. That's it. and before you rattle on about niche or speciality bars, take note that his monopolistic approach is standard for the mainstream establishments in Japan that have the bulk of the market share.

http://www.watamifoodservice.jp/menus/pages/watami/grand/east/

0 ( +1 / -1 )

In Japan, the tax levied on “proper” beer remains high, about eight to ten times higher than the U.S., and about double the rates in the UK. This makes it difficult for consumers who appreciate the real stuff to enjoy it as often as they might elsewhere, a frustrating situation for beer purists, who see their ambrosia increasingly diluted as brewers divorce themselves from malted barley. In the end, there’s nothing to do, really, save sit back and watch as the tax warfare and clever evasion plays out. Enjoy the spectacle, and sip a domestic as you do and try not to picture the first half of your glass draining into Japan government’s coffers.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@Jeff Lee

I'm going to do something you never do and provide evidence.

Never? I frequently provide links to my comments, and if I don't and if someone requests evidence, I'm happy to provide it. I tend to have a source ready and waiting. I am careful not to make comments I would be unable to back up if pushed on them.

Informative as your link is, in my comment above, I simply suggested that you might select a different "favourite" if it bothers you when a place offers only one type of beer (and presumably one that you don't much like). It would make sense - unless you're a teetotaller. I like to drink, and I like to drink good beer, so Asahi or Kirin to me is indistinguishable from the bland lager you can get anywhere in the world. Foster's, Singha, San Miguel, Carlsberg, Kirin - it's all the damn same as far as I'm concerned. Acceptable when nothing better is available, as is often the case, and pleasurable in summer - but that's about all I can say for it.

My single claim - without evidence, because it was too blindingly obvious - is that there are many places that specialize, and they do sell a lot of imported product. You need examples? Whisky bars. Normal bars and restaurants that sell dozens of types of whisky. Wine bars and wine restaurants. Just about any "ethnic" restaurant - Japanese-run or otherwise - will sell imported alcohol from the country it "represents" (In the case of beer, it tends to be the same bland lager you find anywhere in the world, but no matter - for jiaozi, it has to be Tsingtao, don't you find? Kingfisher for curry). Craft beer bars. Import food and drink shops. Liquor chains like Yamaya.

Do you find it hard to access this kind of stuff?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

JeffLee

I'm going to do something you never do and provide evidence: the link below is from one of Japan's biggest izakaya chains, Watami

That's evidence that Watami serves one beer. I never said otherwise. That is not typical - try going to something other than your favorite Watami and looking at the menu. And since I specifically mentioned The Hub, here's their menu.

http://www.pub-hub.com/index.php/menu/lists/HUB

Belgian, English, Irish, Amerian, Mexican beers. Hmm. I thought they were only allowed to serve one beer?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@Pandabelle

You were probably met with silence because he didn't understand your question.

Don't worry - he understood me no problem.

That's evidence that Watami serves one beer. I never said otherwise. That is not typical - try going to something other than your favorite Watami and looking at the menu.

JeffLee has a point. Business in Japan is built on two principles - monopolisation & loyalty. Sure - maybe your favourite izakaya or yakitoriyasan has a plethora of beers on offer. Tokyo alone has over 140,000 restaurants & your local izakaya is small fry. The fact of the matter is, it's a closed & protected market. Much like every other big business here in Japan. That is the Japanese way. Value & choice are not two principles that Japanese companies do well for consumers.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Sure - maybe your favourite izakaya or yakitoriyasan has a plethora of beers on offer.

Right. That's how it would come to be my favourite.

I don't really care about Watami, because it's merely a functional, middle-of-the-road chain. The last one I visited was in 2005, and I didn't think it was especially good. Part of the reason I haven't been back.

I would like to see more choice of beers in my local supermarket - more precisely, I would like my local supermarkets to actually sell good beer alongside all the crap, because the ones in my area don't offer any. And I would like it to be cheaper, but primarily I'm happy that it's available at all.

I don't think the foreign beer situation is that much better in England. The pubs I do like sell real ales and understandably don't tend to bother themselves too much with foreign stuff. On top of that, many of the foreign beers that mainstream pubs do stock are locally brewed: Carlsberg, Stella Artois, Heineken, and Fosters - Danish, Belgian, Dutch and Australian - have breweries in the UK or get someone else to produce under license.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2116010.stm

And for those who don't like monopolies, the big names in beer around the world, along with many of the smaller ones, are in the hands of relatively few companies: Annheuser-Busch, Diageo, SAM Miller and their ilk (and of course including Asahi and the other Japanese giants). They either own them outright, or hold a large stake.

So unless you are absolutely rigid in your adherence to craft beers, real ales and independent breweries, and unless you check very carefully who is behind them, your money is being funnelled towards corporations who are already choking on the stuff. That's the way of the world.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

@wipeout

"I don't really care about Watami,"

This issue is not about you. It's about the nature of Japan's market, a market with restrictive business practices, as shown by major player Watami, as one example.

For the Europeans, the fact that such practices are common in a country what seeks to have "free trade" with them is clearly a problem.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

sighclops

JeffLee has a point.

JeffLee does not have a point. He has a point of view and is refusing to deviate from it because it doesn't fit his narrative.

Sure - maybe your favourite izakaya or yakitoriyasan has a plethora of beers on offer.

It's not just my favorite, it's most larger izakayas, most non-chain restaurants. I wouldn't call it a plethora, but certainly more than one, and certainly several imports is the norm.

The fact of the matter is, it's a closed & protected market.

Evidence? As I have said earlier, every single supermarket and convenience store near me carries import beers. Every single one. Doesn't sound like much of a closed market to me.

Value & choice are not two principles that Japanese companies do well for consumers.

In your opinion. I completely disagree.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

@Jeff Lee

This issue is not about you.

Agreed. But if you wish to set limits strictly by the article, then it's not about Watami either. Watami has no relevance to the issue that the Europeans are talking about - it's simply a chain that has a lazy attitude to the kind of beer it dishes up to its customers.

If a one-man bar can sell imported beers, as many do - some even sell nothing but imported beer - then a large company with considerably more financial clout can also do it. Do you really believe they are at the mercy of their suppliers, while other stores and restaurants carry on selling what they please? Have a look at Yamaya's range sometime.

If Watami sells one type of beer only, it's because they have adopted that business model. It is not conceivable that they are unable to get hold of foreign beer and offer it to their customers, when other businesses around them clearly do so. But it is very conceivable that they feel they don't need to, or that they simply can't be bothered. Because they're just a little bit crap.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@wipeout

If a one-man bar can sell imported beers, as many do - some even sell nothing but imported beer - then a large company with considerably more financial clout can also do it. Do you really believe they are at the mercy of their suppliers, while other stores and restaurants carry on selling what they please?

Yes. This is how long-term contracts are made. Dinners, hostess clubs & all the other 'expenses' play a part in signing & maintaining these long term contracts. 'Ensure that we're the sole supplier & we'll make it worth your while' mantra.

People on here are mostly speaking anecdotally & it's tiresome. That's great that the local supermarket / izakaya offers supposed choice. Again, JeffLee is on the money as he's referring to Japan as a whole. I know how the industry works.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This is how long-term contracts are made. Dinners, hostess clubs & all the other 'expenses' play a part in signing & maintaining these long term contracts. 'Ensure that we're the sole supplier & we'll make it worth your while' mantra.

That is not being at the mercy of your supplier, it's selling out. You know up front what the requirement is - as did schools in the US when they signed deals to carry only Coca Cola or only Pepsi products. They may come to regret the choice later, but it's quite obvious when you exclude products from other companies what the deal is: and a semblance of free choice for your own customers isn't part of it. Bringing us back to: Watami simply isn't all that good.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

People on here are mostly speaking anecdotally & it's tiresome. That's great that the local supermarket / izakaya offers supposed choice. Again, JeffLee is on the money as he's referring to Japan as a whole. I know how the industry works.

Including yourself! No offense but we don't know you and your expertise, mate. Anyone can say anything. You want to convince people? Data. Not assertions, not what people trying to win trade concessions say, not what bitter expats say, actual data.

Do you want to come by my area, check out my supermarkets? Really, mate, just poke your head in a few stores. It's not 1984 or even 2004 - plenty of international selection almost everywhere.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

@pandabelle

does the hub sell anything that isn't a product of AB-InBev?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Ignore them then.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

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