(Nikkei: February 24, 2014 – p. 3)
The resignation of Agriculture Minister Koya Nishikawa was an unexpected turn of events for the Abe cabinet, which is all geared up to “boldly implement agricultural cooperative reform for the first time in 60 years” during the current Diet session. The administration is facing tough issues such as deliberation on amendments to the Agricultural Cooperative Law, which will be submitted shortly, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations aiming at reaching basic agreement by April. While the government wants to minimize the impact on agricultural administration reform by appointing policy expert Yoshimasa Hayashi as the new farm minister, it is believed that the momentum of reform will be impeded.
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Diet Affairs Committee chair Tsutomu Sato stated that he can’t say there will be no impact on deliberations on the budget. The opposition is expected to step up their questioning of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his responsibility in appointing Nishikawa. The enactment of the FY2015 budget before the end of the current fiscal year is now even more difficult.
The new appointee, Hayashi, was agriculture minister from the time the second Abe cabinet was inaugurated in December 2012 to September 2014. He is an expert on agricultural administration and had taken charge of coordination inside the LDP as chair of the Research Commission on Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Strategy when the outline for the amendments to the Agricultural Cooperative Law was compiled early this month.
Hayashi said at his inaugural news conference on Feb. 23 that he will work vigorously for the passage of the Agricultural Cooperative Law amendments in the current Diet session. Although his appointment came as a surprise, he indicated that “generally speaking, I am knowledgeable about all the issues.”
Hayashi disclosed that in addition to the TPP talks, an economic partnership agreement (EPA) with the European Union, and other major trade negotiations, the Prime Minister instructed him to work on all possible measures to deal with the decline in rice prices.
A ministerial meeting to be held in April or later, following a meeting of chief negotiators in Hawaii from Mar. 9-15, will aim at reaching a basic TPP agreement. Japan is facing the U.S.’s demand to make concessions on expanding rice imports and reducing tariff on beef and pork. Hayashi’s ability in domestic coordination will also be put to the test.