On Friday, July 31, as the negotiations under the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks entered a final stage, dairy farmers nationwide held a rally to urge the government to protect the domestic farm sector amid media reports that Japan is considering expanding the import quota for dairy products. We cannot possibly allow the government to rush to reach broad agreement on the talks along with the United States. If the situation proceeds as is, the government is highly likely to go against the Diet resolution calling for the protection of sensitive farm items. The government must respond to farmers’ voices. It should never make further concessions.
The major concern in the ongoing ministerial meeting is the possibility of Japan compromising to the limit exceeding what was agreed upon in the economic partnership agreement with Australia, which took effect in January after tough negotiations. Japan is reportedly mulling introducing safeguard measures to curb increase in beef imports, but their effects will be very limited. If the TPP agreement goes beyond the Japan-Australia EPA which was settled after a final possible compromise, it would definitely face criticism that it is violating the Diet resolution.
Some 700 full-time dairy farmers gathered at the Liberal Democratic Party headquarters, many of them arriving after milking their cows early in the morning. The gathering was meaningful for two reasons. One is that it was held at the ruling party’s headquarters. The Upper House elections are scheduled next summer. The LDP, after returning to power, has worked on drastically reforming agricultural policies, including participating in the TPP talks and overhauling agricultural co-operatives. We cannot possibly say the policies reflect farmers’ voices. They must keep the pledge made in the Diet resolution. If they can’t, they will lose the trust of their people.
The other reason is the number of farmers who gathered at the rally. It would be impossible to gather such a large number of farmers in a sector other than dairy farming. They are deeply concerned over their weakening business conditions. The number of dairy farms in Japan has dropped below 20,000 and currently stands at a little less than 18,000. More than 20 percent of dairy farmers quit farming in the past six years, out of which 80 percent are based in prefectures other than Hokkaido. Even in Hokkaido, which produces more than half of raw milk marketed in Japan, more farmers, mainly those running middle-size farms, are giving up their business due to future uncertainties. How can the government maintain the nation’s agriculture by letting so many full-time farmers give up farming? Such anger towards the government prompted them to participate in the rally. The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should be aware of their sense of impending crisis.
At the rally, many LDP lawmakers with close ties to the farm sector stressed that the number of dairy farmers should not decline further, saying that the government must leave the negotiating table if the Diet resolution cannot be kept. They promised to convey enthusiasm of the participants to negotiators. But Japanese and U.S. negotiators appear to be very impatient, apparently eager to lead the talks to conclusion.
The focus of the ministerial meeting lies on the negotiating positions of New Zealand and Canada. Both of them belong to the Cairns Group, a coalition of agricultural exporting countries which do not have export subsidies. But their stances in the TPP negotiations are totally opposite. New Zealand, which is heavily dependent on dairy exports, is strongly urging Japan to set a low-tariff import quota for New Zealand so that it can significantly expand its exports. Meanwhile, for Canada, dairy products are one of the five key products along with poultry controlled under the supply management system, and protecting the system is a top priority for the country with the general elections coming in October. Japan and Canada, which share the common goal of protecting sensitive farm products, should fight together to maintain their agriculture.
(Aug. 1, 2015)