Achieving food sovereignty is essential

The World Trade Organization (WTO) agricultural talks for establishing new agricultural trade rules are entering a crucial stage. As the Japanese government was preparing a 25-nation ministerial meeting on February 14 to exchange opinions on the subject, Akahata published the following article calling for food sovereignty to be respected:

U.S. insists on cuts in farm product tariffs to levels of industrial goods

The conclusion eight years ago of the WTO agricultural agreement benefited the U.S. and multinational corporate interests, putting Japanese agriculture at risk due to a jump in agricultural imports and a plunge in the prices of farm products. Japan's self-sufficiency rate for food continues declining, a situation that threatens the nation's food security. Agriculture has been abandoned in many parts of the world, in both importing and developing countries, and many farmers are in great difficulty.

The present agricultural negotiations began in 2001. The main issue has been the establishment of new trade rules that would fit in with the needs of humanity in the 21st century, regarding items such as food and the environment.

But it is reported that the negotiations have focused on ways to further promote free trade and have been rocked by differences over a proper formula for reducing tariffs.

Exporting countries, including the Unites States, insist that tariff rates for imported farm products should be under 25 percent across the board, in line with the level for industrial goods. The European Union calls for flexibility in determining item-by-item tariffs. The EU in January proposed that tariffs for farm products be reduced by 36 percent on average and 15 percent at the minimum.

The Japanese government, stressing the multi-functionality of agriculture (meaning that a public good is a joint product with agricultural production activity), is opposed to across-the-board tariff cuts. In late January, as a countermeasure to the U.S. proposal, Japan recognized the need to coordinate with the European Union and expressed its support for the EU proposal.

Can Japan's agriculture be protected by EU proposal?

The present price of imported rice is 370 yen per ten kilograms, less than 10 percent of the average wholesale price of domestic rice, priced at 3,900 yen. The total amount of rice imports is relatively small at present because in addition to the 490 percent tariff (3,410 yen) imposed on imported rice, its quality is not better than Japanese rice.

If the tariff is lowered to 25 percent or about 500 yen per 10 kilograms, Japan's rice production would be severely damaged and agriculture destroyed.

What about the EU proposal? If the tariff is lowered to 15 percent, the minimum figure in the EU proposal, the imported rice will be sold at less than 3,260 yen per ten kilograms in Japan's domestic market. The problem of tariff will then be solved, as long as its influence on the rice price is concerned.

It will be possible that the tariff will be further lowered because the EU proposal will be considered as the starting point of discussion in the tariff negotiations.

EU nations mostly depend on family farming like Japan, but they have basically achieved 100 percent food self-sufficiency and are exporting many agricultural products to other countries, unlike Japan.

Japan is the world's leading food importing country and an important task is to increase its food self-sufficiency ratio. There is no room for Japan to open its market for further imports at the same level as EU nations.

Japan should call for revision of unreasonable rules

For the negotiations, Japan's government has proposed a co-existence of diversified agriculture and the establishment of fair and just rules. If the government truly wants to get these proposals accepted, it should demand the revision of the present agreement which gives priority to international trade expansion. It should call for the revision of the unreasonable rule which urges Japan to import rice, the domestic production of which is shrinking under the government policy.

At the World Food Summit in June 2002, NGOs issued a statement which called for the establishment of food sovereignty in order to end hunger. In Japan, some 5,000 farmers and concerned citizens will gather on February 15, demanding fair and just trade rules.

Japan's government should respond to such public opinions both in and out of the country and make consistent efforts to get rules adopted that will ensure the survival of Japan's agriculture. (end)

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