The production of rice, its export and import, and the farmers behind this specific industry form a big an influential part not just of Japanese government policy, but of Japanese society as a whole. The lobby to protect the industry – backward and inefficient though it may be – is strong and will do all it can to stay behind the current tariff levels set so high as to discourage imports. And with Japan’s entry to the United States-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the works, a Japanese lobby called Citizen’s Congress for Opposing the Transpacific Partnership is doing a four-day U.S. lobbying tour of Capitol Hill against the proposed treaty and its alleged future effects on the Japanese rice industry.
“Rice farming is the basis of our cultural norms. It is a collaboration,” Haranaka Katsuyuki, an organizer of Japanese rice lobby, said in the middle of the tour. If a treaty – any treaty, in the opinion of the lobbyists – forces down the high tariff rates Japan uses to protect domestic rice production, “it will be a tremendous cultural transformation,” Katsuyuki said. He explains that more than just being a food staple, rice is also a cultural staple in that the values that the Japanese culture teach and transfer through rice farming keeps the thread of society sane and the nation stable.
But Japan’s entry into the TPP is seen as a significant boost to the relevance and authority of the entire 12-nation multilateral trade group. With Japan included, the TPP trade body will represent close to half of the annual world economic output. Japan’s entry also significantly magnifies the political authority and impact the TPP will have in the Asian region. This will virtually have China looking over its shoulders to see if it should ease up on its protected markets as well – a goal that might not be verbalized by the Obama administration, but is obvious in the way the TPP has been designed and strategized. “The participation of Japan, a major U.S. trading partner as well as close ally, further increases the economic significance of a TPP Agreement,” said Demetrios Marantis, an acting U.S. trade representative.
In their lobby meetings on Capitol Hill, the Japanese rice lobby group emphasized that Japanese politics are not in a united stand when it comes to the rice industry and agriculture as a whole. Katsuyuki doubts if Japan can deliver on the extensive free trade deal that U.S. officials – and indeed almost all of the current TPP members – say that they require. “There is a misunderstanding that Japan is very eager” to see the treaty completed, said Nobuhiko Suto, a former Japanese parliamentarian and part of the anti-TPP lobby. “It is not a fact. There is a lot of skepticism,” he said. The TPP core is looking to make sure that everyone will be on fair and mutually beneficial footing, what with the huge number of nations involved, each looking to forward its own agenda. The members will not look kindly on carve-outs and exclusions to the current deals, which are exactly what the Japanese are said to be looking for with regards to its protected rice industry. This dilemma will play out soon enough, as soon as Japan gets – or indeed, fail to get – the approval it needs to join the TPP from the U.S. Congress.
[via The Washington Post]
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