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Published January 25, 2011, 11:30 AM

TPP may mean changes to Japan’s ag

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s decision to consider Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement has provoked acrimony over whether to protect Japan’s export industries or its agriculture.

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s decision to consider Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement has provoked acrimony over whether to protect Japan’s export industries or its agriculture.

One or the other

But this is not an either-or issue.

The TPP is a multilateral pact to create a free trade zone by eliminating tariffs between the member countries. Nine countries, including the United States, are negotiating the agreement.

Joining the TPP offers a great opportunity for Japan to catch up with some rival trade powers in the race to strike free trade agreements.

Japan should try to figure out a way to ensure the long-term viability of its agriculture without missing out on this opportunity.

As a resource-poor country, Japan has no choice but to stake its survival on trade. But food security also is vital for safeguarding the well-being of the people. Japan cannot give up either trade or agriculture.

Ag reform

The key to solving this knotty question is agricultural reform.

Japan is struggling to curb rice production to prevent a glut. But the global outlook for the future of agriculture is quite different.

The world population is projected to grow to 9.1 billion in 2050 from the current 6.9 billion. Steadily growing demand for grain is certain to remain on a sharp upward trajectory in the coming years.

The lack of a clear vision for the future of Japanese agriculture discourages young and highly motivated people from entering the business. The acreage reduction program, which runs counter to the efforts to brighten the future prospects of Japanese agriculture, should be abolished.

The direct payment program also should be revised to focus on supporting well-motivated full-time farmers from paying cash to all farmers selling rice.

Japan should outgrow the defeatist notion that agriculture is victimized by policy efforts to support export industries.

If Japanese agriculture is reinvented to make its products competitive in the global market, there is nothing for Japanese farmers to fear about trade liberalization.

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