(Nikkei: April 23, 2015 – p. 4)
Opposition grew against increasing rice import quotas at a Liberal Democratic Party meeting to discuss the ongoing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact and other trade issues.
The meeting was held on April 22, joined by members of the party’s committee on TPP and other groups. With TPP negotiations entering the final stretch, the committee members want to pressure the government not to give in to the U.S. in talks over the lowering or removal of agricultural tariffs. They also look to get money to protect domestic farmers, eyeing the conclusion of TPP negotiations and next year’s Upper House election.
“Regional economies cannot be revived without protecting rice,” said Shoji Nishida, an Upper House member, at the meeting. “What we should protect is very important.” He stressed that rice is the top priority among agricultural produce Japan wants to exempt from the TPP’s zero-tariff rule.
The U.S. demands Japan accept 175,000 tons of consumer rice a year tariff-free in bilateral talks, the core of the TPP negotiations. Japan wants to limit the quota to 50,000 tons, but is now considering setting an import quota of nearly 100,000 tons of rice – both for consumption and as ingredients for processed food – for the 11 members in the TPP negotiations.
These moves are making some LDP members jittery. Upper House member Toshio Yamada, a former agricultural co-op worker, expressed anxiety that increases in rice imports could cause rice prices to drop. “What policies will the government adopt to adjust demand and supply?” he asked Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Amari, who also attended the meeting.
According to government sources, Japan and the U.S. have crossed the “ninth stage of bilateral negotiations.” The government and the ruling parties are beginning to shift their focus to drawing measures for farmers, with an eye on the Upper House election, which will be held next summer.
When the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was concluded at the Uruguay Round negotiations in 1993, the Japanese government earmarked over 6 trillion yen in budgets to protect the nation’s farming industry.
Behind-the-scene consultations are already underway between the Agriculture Ministry and the Finance Ministry. Once the TPP goes into effect, it is estimated to take at least three years for tariffs to be actually reduced. “We hope to secure money in the budget to strengthen Japan’s agriculture starting next fiscal year,” said a LDP member, who lobbies for agriculture interests.