As Japan wavers on its “sacred” agricultural products policy, one cannot help but feel uneasy.
At the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, TPP minister Akira Amari will visit the United States and discuss turbulent tariff areas with U.S. Trade Representative Froman. The aim is to accelerate negotiations in tandem with U.S. President Obama’s visit to Japan, scheduled for next week. Demonstrating his recognition that they had entered the final phase, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe showed willingness to reach an agreement at the Japan-U.S. summit meeting.
The United States’ position is firm on the treatment of the five farm products, with beef as the focal point. Regarding the summit as a deadline and making concessions on “sacred” products is unacceptable.
Last week, both Mr. Amari and Mr. Froman discussed the tariff issue intensively, but were unable to find common ground due to major differences. During negotiations, the U.S. approved of leaving tariffs in place on the five agricultural products, and wants to propose a reduction of the beef tariff from 38.5 percent to less than 10 percent.
Prior to this, Japan reached a broad agreement with Australia on an economic partnership agreement, and agreed to reduce the beef tariff by half, in stages. In other words, Japan’s assertion is that reducing the tariff by half is okay, but reducing it to one digit would be too low.
Somewhere along the line, beef ceased being a sacred product that should be defended to the very end, and the focus of the argument shifted to the range of tariff reduction.
The Liberal Democratic Party’s response is peculiar as well. The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Committee, and so on, made a decision to render the tariff level agreed upon for the Japan-Australia EPA “a line that cannot be crossed.”
In this way, are they not confirming that beef is no longer sacred?
Settling TPP negotiations with the U.S. based on the Japan-Australia EPA is a mistake. The United States, under pressure from industry associations, has not softened its stance; there is even a risk that it will force further concessions. If that happens, naturally, Japan will accept equivalent terms from Australia as well. In the end, producers of the commodities selected as bargaining chips are the ones who will suffer losses.
The administration and ruling party is also considering abolishing tariffs concerning a portion of the 586 items minutely categorized under the five agricultural sectors, but none of the details have been revealed. The process for deciding the terms of the Japan-Australia EPA was also hidden from public view.
Slowly piling on concessions with an unclear approach like this is nothing less than a betrayal of the people of Japan.