Tokyo needs to protest US on farm market access: lawmaker

TOKYO, Oct. 25 ― Japan’s senior lawmaker has lashed out at the government for not immediately responding to a comment by a top U.S. official to ask for greater agriculture market access than Tokyo had given in other free trade deals, including the Trade-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“The Japanese government should vehemently protest such a comment,” Saito Ken, a former Japanese agriculture minister, told the government officials who briefed him on a new trade talks with the U.S. at an Oct. 24 meeting.

Following Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s latest cabinet reshuffle, Saito became director general for the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)’s internal task force for trade deals, including the TPP and the Japan-U.S. trade agreement for goods (TAG).

Saito was a government official working for the trade ministry, before becoming a lawmaker, and knows all the delicacy and diplomatic language in trade talks.

His condemnation came after the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue reportedly said that he expects Japan to reduce tariffs on U.S. farm products beyond levels agreed in the TPP.

Saito pointed out that the U.S. agriculture secretary has repeatedly made such remarks and said, “Had we showed out of protest against the first remark, we could have avoided the second and after, which putting us in a more difficult position to negotiate.”

As Japan and the U.S. are set to kick off the TAG negotiation as early as January next year, Abe said has reiterated that Tokyo will not accept deeper farm tariff cuts than what it had offered in other free trade agreements.

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