Prime Minister Shinzo Abe opened the 150-day ordinary Diet session on Friday, Jan. 24, with a policy speech which reaffirmed his vow to create a “virtuous cycle” of economic recovery and spread it throughout the nation including rural areas.
Speaking to the lawmakers at the plenary session of both the Upper and Lower houses, Abe also stressed his determination to conduct drastic agricultural reform, including the establishment of farmland consolidation banks, revision of the government’s control on rice production and introduction of a Japanese-style direct payment system.
He stated the need to focus on implementing the growth strategy including deregulation, as well as fiscal reconstruction and social welfare reform.
Abe gave revitalization of rural areas as one of his cabinet’s top priority issues, and pointed to the significance of agricultural industry as the core of rural economy.
He said his administration will work on proceeding with agricultural structure reform through farmland consolidation and fully utilizing farmlands. He also said more-than-40-year-old system of rice production adjustment will be revised through abolishing the so-called “gentan” policy, in which the government allocates rice production limits to each prefecture.
Some fear that by using the phrase “abolishment of gentan,” Abe may give a misleading impression of reform to rice farmers and make them feel worried. Government’s subsidies for farmers who change to other crops, including rice for livestock feed, will be maintained, as the revision in rice production control is aimed at fully utilizing rice paddies.
In his keynote speech, Abe expressed his view that the best way to reach the goal of doubling incomes of farmers and farming communities is to facilitate businesses by farmers certified by the communities as ambitious. He promised to revise the government’s basic plan on the agricultural industry to make it a growth industry.
Referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks, he explained that negotiators are discussing intensely not only on tariffs but also on the issues of intellectual properties, investment and government procurement. He said the Japanese government hopes to lead the discussions along with the United States, adding that it will make the best possible judgment to meet the national interests, based on the principle of attacking what should be attacked and protecting what should be protected.
However, he did not touch on the resolutions adopted by the agricultural committees of both houses of the Diet which called for protection of key agricultural products from tariff elimination. Because the Diet is watching to see how the government will handle the difficult of issue of tariffs in the TPP negotiations, farmers are likely to be increasingly concerned about Abe’s failure to clarify that the government will follow the resolutions.
Abe also said the government will strengthen monitoring and guidance system on food misrepresentation cases.
The Diet session is scheduled to run through June 22. Party leaders will offer questions between Jan. 28 and 30.
(Jan. 25, 2014)