Japanese farmers and automakers express concern over TPP

The Japan-U.S. accord reached last week that agreed Tokyo’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks is prompting fears from both the agricultural and automative industry.

The TPP aims to promote free trade between all the Pacific Rim nations. Though major domestic business lobbies have hailed the move there are widespread concerns by farmers that the TPP may undermine food safety, as labeling requirements for food additives and genetically modified items, as well as standards on pesticide residue, may be relaxed.

The agricultural sector fears that Japan’s entry to the TPP will result in Japan being flooded by cheap food imports, while automakers are complaining about what they perceive as unequal treatment in comparison to their South Korean competitors.

Business lobby groups however have welcomed the deal, saying it is essential that Japan join the ongoing discussions to determine a framework for the TPP as soon as possible in order to secure Japan‘s national interests. The final agreement is timetabled to be concluded by the end of 2013.

In principle, the TPP aims to remove all tariffs among its member countries. One rice farmer from Yamagata Prefecture, expressed distrust of the government, saying he finds it “incomprehensible” that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided to take part in the multilateral talks before securing a promise from the U.S. to exclude sensitive items, such as rice, from tariff elimination.

A beef farmer from Miyazaki Prefecture, feared that if the current tariff on beef imports is removed during the TPP negotiations, the domestic industry “won’t be able to compete at all” with cheaper imports because of its higher costs. Another farmer from Miyazaki, said he would have to try to stay in business by altering the composition of his feed stuff to raise his cows milk yields.

Japan’s major automakers have also expressed their concerns and disappointment that Tokyo and Washington have agreed to delay for as long as possible the elimination of U.S. tariffs on imported Japanese vehicles, by introducing a longer moratorium than that agreed between the United States and South Korea for their bilateral free-trade agreement.

The U.S. is still Japan’s largest auto export market, and manufacturers including Toyota. Nissan and Honda will find themselves at a big disadvantage after American automobile tariffs are lifted in 2016 on passenger vehicles from South Korea making South Korean cars considerably cheaper.

Unlike farmers and automakers, however, Keidanren (The Japanese Business Federation) Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura, whose group represents the nation’s biggest manufacturers, welcomed the bilateral accord and in a statement urged Abe’s government to “remain on the offensive” in the upcoming discussions so that Japan can influence the TPP rule-making process.

Takayuki Shinagawa, 71, the manager of a rubber product maker in Osaka Prefecture, also hailed the agreement saying the Pacific Rim trade zone would boost his company’s exports significantly.

However, Yasuaki Yamaura, of the Consumers Union of Japan, voiced concern over what he sees as the government’s headlong rush to obtain approval to take part in the TPP talks, saying consumers and producers have not been sufficiently informed of the consequences of the agreement.

“People in Japan may be forced to merely accept the outcome of the discussions,” he warned.

Source: The Japan Times

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