(The Japan Agricultural News: October 6, 2015 – p. 1)
By Takanori Okabe
As a result of the broad agreement reached in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, Japan will now have to open its market for agricultural products at a higher level than ever before. Although the government plans to introduce certain countermeasures as safeguards to mitigate the impact of the agreement, it remains to be seen whether or not the government will be able to minimize the blow to domestic agriculture. The government and ruling parties plan to expedite deliberations on domestic countermeasures. However, before proceeding with discussions on countermeasures, the government should fulfill its obligation to explain the results of the negotiations. The government will also be questioned over whether the agreement is consistent with the Diet resolution as well as the pros and cons on whether the Diet should approve the TPP accord.
As a result of the TPP negotiations on agricultural products, especially the bilateral negotiations with the U.S., Japan agreed to open up its market for agricultural products at a much higher level than it has in the past economic partnership agreements (EPA) or the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations. This was predicted even before Japan joined the talks because the aim of the TPP negotiations was to eliminate tariffs on all products. The Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of the both Lower and Upper Houses adopted a resolution to designate five key agricultural products as “sacred areas.” Therefore, the Japanese negotiators asked for the five products to be exempted from TPP negotiations or discussed again. However, the TPP agreement this time will affect each the five products to some extent; not one of them has been left intact. Special import quotas will be established for rice, dairy products, and sweetening crops; the markup on wheat will be reduced; and the tariffs on beef and pork will be reduced significantly. Most farmers probably did not expect the government to make such major concessions.
Although the government has not disclosed the contents of the TPP negotiations, this newspaper has reported on them in order to issue a warning. Some farmers said they “wanted to believe the reports were inaccurate.” When the government announced its participation in the TPP negotiations, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised to “protect Japan’s agriculture and food.” What is Abe going to say to those farmers now?
Why did this happen? Can the government claim it honored the Diet resolution and public pledge? Should it go ahead with the Diet approval of the TPP accord? Before deliberating on domestic countermeasures, we want the government and the ruling parties to provide a full explanation. If the government judges that countermeasures are necessary, what kind of policy can it implement so that farmers will be able to devote themselves to agriculture? The government should move the discussion forward while gaining the understanding of the public.