【Editorial】 What challenges are Prime Minister Shinzo Abe really facing? (Jan. 23, 2016)


“We will resolutely take on challenges, no matter how difficult the issue might be,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said during his key policy speech delivered before the Diet, expressing his determination to tackle issues faced by the nation and come up with answers.

Giving special focus on the farm sector, Abe stressed the positive economic impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement and pledged to boost new agricultural policies. However, we cannot deny that a large gap exists between Abe’s stance and that of the farming industry. Rather than listening to hopes and dreams without real solutions, farmers are waiting eagerly for a specific roadmap based on hard realities.

Abe stressed his administration’s achievements in the past three years and expressed confidence in its problem-solving ability. But recently, his key Abenomics economic policy is not working so well and Akira Amari, economics minister and Abe’s close ally, has come under fire for money scandal allegations, causing headaches for the Abe administration prior to the Upper House election scheduled in summer.

Delivered at a time when prospects for the global economy is becoming increasingly unclear, Abe repeated the term “challenge” in his speech to show his willingness to work on putting the Japanese economy back on a path to recovery. He said his administration will “begin to take on the challenge of realizing the dynamic engagement of all citizens,” setting forth a target of achieving a gross domestic product of 600 trillion yen and pledging to fire off his new “three arrows” accordingly. We believe, however, that it is necessary to first evaluate his original three arrows of policies before moving toward what he calls the “second stage of Abenomics.”

To begin with, we doubt whether the government was aiming at the right target in conducting radical reform at the expense of farmers under its growth strategy – the third arrow of Abe’s three economic weapons. In his key policy speech delivered a year ago, Abe pledged to press forward with reforms, including reforming agricultural co-operatives and bringing the TPP talks to an early conclusion. He appears to think he has made some achievements on these issues. In this year’s speech, he gave high marks to the TPP agreement, saying that Japan was able to “obtain the best possible result from the perspective of Japan’s national interest.” He also said he will accelerate efforts to meet the ambitious target of doubling farmers’ income through new farm policies.

Abe pledged to reform agriculture so that young people can engage in farming with hopes and dreams for the future. Will farmers take him at his word? Will they feel encouraged to make investments or feel confident about making future business plans? We don’t deny the significance of conducting aggressive policies such as consolidating farmlands, boosting exports and developing higher value-added products. But the government won’t be able to come up with effective measures unless they face up to realities. Same thing can be said about measures to cope with market liberalization under the TPP agreement. Farmers strongly feel that the government is underestimating the impact of liberalization on the agricultural sector as a whole, and is overplaying the effects of policy measures to cope with it.

Abe said that with a strong economy, a “positive circle of growth and distribution” will be created. But in reality, widening gaps and abandoning of the weak are becoming evident under the name of regulatory reform. As for the farm sector, management of farmlands, water resources and various other functions of rural communities cannot be maintained only by a handful of large-scale agricultural business enterprises.

Abe is trying to shift from the Diet that will conduct reform to the Diet that will take on challenges of the future. What challenges must he take on? Eliminating economic distortions, transforming the economic system into a sustainable mechanism based on domestic-demand-oriented growth and establishing a mature society where all people, both old and young, can live in peace. We believe these are the goals this nation should aim at.

In the current Diet session, lawmakers are dealing with important issues, including the TPP agreement, which set the nation’s future course. We urge members of both the ruling and opposition parties to conduct a meaningful debate on policies, not for the sake of obtaining votes in the coming election. We ask the ruling bloc to respond humbly and faithfully to questions at the Diet, and the opposition parties to show countermeasures that deserve to be accepted by the people as policy choice.

(Jan. 23, 2016)

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