Japanese pork producers fear the impact of market liberalization under Japan-EU trade accord

KAGOSHIMA, June 26 – With Japan and European Union nearing agreement on a free trade deal, pork producers are increasingly worried about their future. Even production areas of quality pork brands are losing competitiveness in recent years, due to the continuing aftermath of disease outbreaks. Liberalization of the domestic pork market to EU with many pork exporting countries could force more pork producers in Japan to give up their business. Farmers are also concerned over the government’s failure to share information, and call on the government to ensure a stable environment for them to continue business.

In the city of Kanoya in Kagoshima Prefecture, known as the nation’s major pork production region, Michio Ushidome, 69, a breeder of premium Kagoshima Kurobuta brand black pigs who heads an association of black pig producers in the prefecture, remains pessimistic. “Even now, we are in a state of barely making our ends meet. We would be in a difficult situation if pork prices drop,” Ushidome said. Ushidome’s farm ranks top in the prefecture in terms of reproductive performance, shipping 700 pigs last year. Still, he can’t say his business is doing well, Ushidome said.

According to JA Kagoshima Kimotsuki, a local agricultural cooperative, a black pig is sold at an average price of 51,000 yen in the region, while the cost to feed one pig is roughly 30,000 yen. When sanitation and utility expenses are deducted, there is little profit left for farmers. Pigs other than black pigs are sold at relatively cheaper prices, putting breeders in an even harsher situation.

Pig carcasses are currently marketed at a relatively high price of about 680 yen per kg, but the price setting is attributable to the decline of pig shipments following the outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) three years ago. JA officials say the effect of the outbreak has more or less ended and there are no other factors which could help maintain the high prices. Meanwhile, there are limits to farmers’ cost-cutting efforts, since they cannot reduce the expenses for vaccines.

Pig breeders in the region are still struggling with the effects of the PED outbreak, some being saddled with debts and many of them aging. The swine industry in the region is quickly losing competitiveness, with one farmer per year giving up business.

In such a situation, opening the pork market to EU producers is a serious threat to domestic pork farmers. “Although pork produced in Denmark is for processing, an increase of pork imports would lead to declines in prices of domestically-produced lower-grade pork products,” a JA official said. “And that would eventually affect prices of high-quality products.” Domestic pork industry is also concerned over possible competition with the Netherlands which exports refrigerated pork.

“We can’t wipe out our worries unless the government discloses information (on the Japan-EU trade agreement),” Ushidome says. The negotiators are reported to be discussing reducing pork tariffs to the same level as agreed in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks, but the government has not given any explanation so far to domestic pork breeders. Kazuhito Ohara, head of the local JA’s pork farming section, points out that the market liberalization would also affect related industries including medicines and feeds for pigs, having impact on the whole region as a result. “We fear the deal could throw cold water on farmers’ efforts,” Ohara said.

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