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Chinese shoppers boost Japan's exports of beauty products

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TOKYO — Japan’s exports of cosmetics and other beauty products are soaring as tourists from China and elsewhere in Asia turn into loyal fans of their holiday buys after returning home.

Shipments of 16 beauty product categories — including skin toners, lipstick and hair-care items — reached 343.3 billion yen ($3.06 billion) for the January-August period, up 48.6% on the year, government trade statistics show. The full-year figure is expected to top records for a sixth straight year.

Japan’s cosmetics exports have been surging at a brisk clip in recent years, more than doubling between 2014 and 2017 to 371.5 billion yen. In 2016, exports of beauty products exceeded imports for the first time.

The export boom is driven by fans in China and other Asian markets who first bought Japanese beauty products during trips here. China was the top destination, accounting for 35.2% of the eight-month tally. Hong Kong was responsible for a quarter of the sum, followed by South Korea and Taiwan. Together, these four East Asian markets accounted for more than three-fourths of the total.

Other major buyers included Singapore and Thailand, where Japan is a popular vacation destination.

Exports to China for the first eight months doubled on the year, gaining even more momentum after Beijing lowered the tariff rates on many beauty products from around 8% to the 2% range in July. Efforts to streamline permit applications for pharmaceutical products in Shanghai and other major cities helped as well. With skin conditions similar to their Japanese counterparts, Chinese women are especially partial to Japanese skin care items like toners, serums and moisturizers.

Japanese cosmetic companies are eager to take advantage of this trend. Kose will double the number of stores offering its Cosme Decorte and Sekkisei MYV brands to around 40 in China by 2020.

Pola, the cosmetics unit of Pola Orbis Holdings, plans to increase its Chinese sales locations threefold to at least 30 by 2020, focusing on the anti-aging, upmarket B.A brand. Kao started selling its high-end Sofina iP serums in China in September ahead of a 2020 rollout of its flagship Sensai brand there.

Robust demand is also encouraging cosmetics makers to bolster capital spending. Shiseido will set up its first new Japanese factory in 36 years in Tochigi Prefecture as early as 2019, followed by a new facility in Osaka, in response to strong Chinese demand for its Cle de Peau Beaute skin care and makeup items. And Kose is ramping up production at its plant in Gunma Prefecture.

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