(Hokkaido Shimbun: November 6, 2015 – p. 3)
A basic agreement has been reached on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) has released its analysis of the TPP’s impact on primary products.
For most primary goods, MAFF says that “the impact [of the TPP] will be limited” or “it is hard to foresee any dramatic rise in imports for the time being.”
That is probably true. They are using current import figures and distribution data without taking a hard look at the changes that will be wrought by this important market opening.
Even the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has expressed its dissatisfaction with the MAFF analysis, saying it is “too optimistic.” That is no surprise; in no way can this analysis be considered a response to producers’ concerns.
There is a gap between the national government’s understanding of the situation and that of producers. MAFF should show the concrete impact of the TPP after studying the basic agreement in more detail.
The analysis mentions “a drop in prices for domestic products over the long term” as a point of concern for many items.
But this is a structural problem of the TPP, which opens the door to increased imports of inexpensive agricultural, forestry, and fisheries products.
Can that simply be described as a “concern”?
The national government has emphasized that tariffs on the five core agricultural products will remain in place under the TPP. Here we perhaps glimpse an ulterior motive: The desire to make the TPP’s impact on primary industries appear small because the TPP will have a big influence on next year’s Upper House elections.
If that is the case, however, the government is being insincere to producers.
We can infer that the government thinks the impact will be greater on dairy farming and stockbreeding than on other areas.
Tariffs on beef will ultimately be lowered to 9%, and MAFF says declines in beef prices in the long term are a concern.
In the area of dairy products as well, MAFF says decreases in the price of milk for processed dairy products over the long term are a concern because the tariffs on Gouda and other cheeses will be eliminated in the 16th year [of the TPP].
The TPP is a pressing issue for producers precisely because of these effects. These issues cannot be brushed aside as “future concerns.”
Hokkaido mainly raises dairy cattle, and its beef competes with U.S. and Australian beef, which are of a similar quality. Milk for processed dairy products is mainly produced in Hokkaido. The impact of the TPP on these products will be a huge blow to the prefecture.
Dairy farmers who need to make capital investments will hesitate to do so if future prospects are unclear. In some cases, this may lead the farmers to abandon dairy farming entirely.
In addition, it has been disclosed that the Japanese government will meet with four other TPP participating countries starting seven years after the trade pact takes effect and engage in more talks, including possibly moving up the timing for the elimination or reduction of tariffs. This just makes producers more distrustful.
It is critical that [the government] eliminate people’s concerns about the future. This is not just what dairy farmers want; it’s what most farmers seek.