The Yomiuri ShimbunWith the first meeting of the Japan-U.S. economic dialogue planned for Tuesday, people involved in agriculture are concerned about the increasing U.S. pressure on Japan to open its market for agriculture products.
Both sides are expected not to discuss details in specific areas at the first meeting. However, agriculture remains the Achilles’ heel of Japan’s trade negotiations, according to sources close to the issue. An increasing number of people in the industry believe farming will inevitably be on the agenda.
During negotiations prior to the economic dialogue, the U.S. side had requested that Japan initiate bilateral trade negotiations, while the Japanese side responded that it would not be able to meet this request.
Sources said both sides will not discuss details during the first meeting, partly due to the fact that the U.S. Congress’ confirmation of the nominees for both the U.S. trade representative and agriculture secretary has been delayed.
Still, people in the industry have become more alarmed, as Japan is one of the major markets for U.S. agricultural products, after Canada, China, Mexico and the European Union.
Another source of concern is demands from U.S. agricultural associations, which were disappointed after the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump gave notice of the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
Prior to bilateral talks between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump, the National Pork Producers Council of the United States, with its influence on U.S. politics, urged Trump to initiate free trade agreement negotiations with Japan.
In his confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate in March, U.S. Trade Representative nominee Robert Lighthizer listed Japan as “a primary target” for increased access for U.S. agricultural products. Shortly afterwards, the NPPC issued a statement saying Lighthizer’s remarks at the hearing gave the council confidence that “Lighthizer will work to create export opportunities.”
To achieve the goal of reducing U.S. trade deficits, it seems easier for the U.S. side to urge Japan to open its agricultural markets.
Vehicles are one of the major trading items between Japan and the United States, but Japan does not impose tariffs on vehicles imported from the United States and there is little room for negotiation. On the other hand, U.S. agriculture is highly competitive and the country produces products that are common on Japanese dining tables. The Japanese government imposes a high tariff on such products as rice and beef to protect domestic farmers.
From the viewpoint of the United States, there are various easy targets in the Japanese agricultural market. One senior official of an economy-related government office said, “talks on agriculture will come up” at a second or later meetings of the economic talks.
If agriculture is on the agenda at the meetings, the U.S. side may demand concessions from Japan to a degree exceeding those the Japanese government made during the TPP negotiations. A senior official of the Japan Pork Producers Association said, “[The Japanese government] should not comply with the U.S. request to initiate bilateral trade negotiations because Japan-U.S. negotiations were concluded [during the TPP negotiations].”
The Japanese government holds the same stance. A senior official of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said, “It is quite unthinkable to make concessions exceeding the TPP deal.”
Nevertheless, it is uncertain how far the Japanese side will be able to reject U.S. demands.
Some in the Liberal Democratic Party are urging the Japanese government to bring the TPP deal into effect without the United States and encourage the United States to return to the TPP, rather than being pressured to open its agricultural market in bilateral talks. Speech