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HOME  > Past issues  > 2008 December 10 - 16  > Japan must reject WTO chair proposal in agriculture talks
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2008 December 10 - 16 [ECONOMY]

Japan must reject WTO chair proposal in agriculture talks

December 11, 2008
The World Trade Organization (WTO) published revised texts aimed at hammering out the differences in the Doha Round of trade negotiations. They were released by the chairman of the agriculture negotiating group as the basis for the upcoming meeting of trade ministers. They include a call on Japan to further open its markets for foreign agricultural goods, which will lead to the destruction of Japan’s agriculture. This should arouse a sense of crisis among the Japanese residents, farmers in particular.

For fair trade rules

The negotiations that ended without reaching an agreement in July left deep-seated differences over farm as well as non-farm products, causing difficulty in setting a date for the ministerial meeting. The WTO’s way of pressing member countries to open their markets against their will should be fundamentally reviewed. The Japanese government should reject the agriculture negotiating group chairman’s proposal and work to establish equitable trade rules.

The chairman’s draft provides that the number of “sensitive products” that in principle can be excluded from required substantial tariff cuts should be four percent of all 1,332 items. This is far short of the Japanese demand for “eight percent”. Under the “4 percent” plan, substantial tariff cuts will be applied on dairy products, sugar, and devil’s tongue, dealing a heavy blow to producers.

If the exemption is to be expanded to “six percent,” the revised text calls for an increase in the volume of imports in exchange for lower tariffs products. This means that the quota under the “minimum access” agreement for the import of rice would increase from the present 770,000 tons a year to over 1,140,000 tons a year. This would deal a severe blow to the producers of rice, the only food item in which Japan is self-sufficient.

Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate at 40 percent is the lowest among the developed countries. There is popular agreement that the food self-sufficiency rate should be drastically increased.

Recently, the government has expressed its determination to increase the self-sufficiency rate to over 50 percent. The Japanese government should decisively reject the WTO chair’s proposals that will further threaten Japan’s agriculture.

The Doha Round of trade talks have been marked by a lot of ruptures and suspensions after the talks started and the attempt to set up a framework. This is because the neo-liberal economic policy of opening markets has increased the poverty rate in many countries and hindered these countries from pursuing equitable and sustainable economic development.

Since last year, global financial speculations has led to extraordinary rises in food prices, threatening the living conditions of many people in many countries, in so-called developing countries in particular.

“High food prices have plunged an additional 40 million people into hunger this year, pushing the overall number of malnourished to 963 million,” the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization warned on December 9.

No country should depend on other countries for food. Food importing countries are called upon to make efforts to increase their agricultural production.

The WTO secretariat is trying to use the U.S.-triggered global financial crisis as a lever to give impetus to the further opening of markets in trade talks by reactivating the talks that ended in failure in July.

However, the task now is for the WTO to examine and drastically review the failure caused by market fundamentalism under WTO agreements. It is necessary to avoid any attempt at a rough-and-ready compromise.

Change export-led economic development

Why has Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate dropped? The government is to blame for its policy of giving priority to exports of industrial products while opening Japan’s agricultural market to foreign goods.

In the current round of trade talks, only Japan is calling for the withdrawal of tariffs on automobiles, adhering to its export-first policy.

Japan is under severe criticism from throughout the world. Because of its risky push to increase exports in disregard of the importance of increasing domestic demand, the vulnerability of Japan’s economy is clearer now amid the global financial crisis.

In order to regain Japan’s domestic demand-led economic growth, it is essential to rebuild its agriculture by taking drastic steps to help boost the nation’s food self-sufficiency rate.
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