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HOME  > Past issues  > 2016 January 20 - 26  > PM speech on TPP cannot mask risky nature of free trade
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2016 January 20 - 26 TOP3 [POLITICS]

PM speech on TPP cannot mask risky nature of free trade

January 25, 2016

Akahata editorial

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in his policy speech delivered on January 22 touched on Japan’s participation in a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. He stated, “The birth of the TPP will boost Japan’s GDP by 14 trillion yen and generate new employment for some 800 thousand people.” His depicting the pact as a rosy deal has, however, invited criticism.

The TPP is a trade agreement that will basically remove all tariffs and most likely incorporate trade rules that will primarily benefit large-scale exporters, including the United States. Many farm producers and consumers in Japan, let alone famers, became concerned about the zero-tariff pact and began raising anti-TPP voices. Those involved in agriculture have good reason to feel anxious about the deal because it is obvious that the farming industry will be the most negatively affected by the TPP accord. Abe, by trying to underplay the negative aspects and instead claim positive ripple effects from the agreement, is very irresponsible.

Exaggerating good points

Regarding the country’s agriculture policies, which were the most controversial topic during the TPP negotiations, Prime Minister Abe stated, “We have secured exemptions from eliminating tariffs,” adding, “We succeeded in obtaining the best outcome that realizes our national interests.” However, what he actually did in the talks is that he accepted a zero-tariff on 30% of items pertaining to Japan’s five key food categories (rice, wheat, beef/pork, dairy products, and sweeteners). What is more, he gave in to pressure to set up import quotas on rice from the United States and Australia. This is a clear violation of a Diet resolution calling for the exclusion of the five products from the TPP. Other than the five categories, many Japanese vegetables and fruits will also be subject to the abolishment of or to large reductions in tariffs under trade liberalization. The multilateral free-trade agreement will deal a devastating blow to Japanese agriculture.

An agricultural newspaper, the Japan Agricultural News, on January 4 published survey results on the TPP. The data showed that 92% of heads of local agricultural cooperatives in Japan do not believe that Abe kept his commitment to the Diet resolution. There is no doubt that Abe’s address trumpeting a rosy future for Japan with the TPP has rubbed them the wrong way.

The prime minister said that the time and effort of the farmers “will come to be properly appreciated” with the TPP, but there is no guarantee at all that this will happen. The government estimates that the TPP will partially lower prices due to an expected increase in imports but will not decrease domestic production. The logic behind this claim is this: Japanese domestic products because of their high quality will not come into competition with imported products; government TPP measures will provide opportunities for farmers to expand their farming businesses which will lead to enhancing Japan’s international competitiveness; and therefore Japan will be able to maintain its production volume and increase exports.

However, it is clear that Japan’s agriculture has been shrinking mainly because the government has kept liberalizing imports of agricultural products. Successive Liberal Democratic Party governments have allowed more and more foreign farm produce to enter the domestic market, called on farmers to increase the size of their operations to improve efficiency under the pretext of strengthening international competitiveness, and excluded small-sized farmers who failed to meet the government call from the benefit of government measures. These brought about today’s agriculture crisis, a low food self-sufficiency rate and struggling local economies. It is a blatantly false claim that the conclusion of the TPP will not adversely affect Japan’s agriculture.

The prime minister stated that the amount of Japan’s food exports exceeded 700 billion yen in 2015 and is expected to reach the target of one trillion yen in 2020. However, of the exports, marine products occupy 40%, processed foods 30%, and agricultural products take up only a small percentage. Recent growth in food export value is largely attributable to the depreciation of the yen. The weak yen also caused rises in prices of imported livestock feed and agricultural production materials which imposed more difficulties on farmers. Abe’s policy speech is evidently divorced from reality.

Increase public movement in order to block ratification of TPP

The ratification of the TPP is now the point at issue as the TPP member countries decided to hold a signing ceremony on February 4. The TPP will change the very basis of the nation’s agricultural economy. It will absolutely do no good but harm Japan’s family farmers and local economies.

To block the ratification of the free trade pact is increasingly important in order to prioritize people’s livelihoods over benefits to large companies and the U.S., and to revitalize agriculture and local economies in Japan.
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