politics

Old and tired, some Japan farmers see trade pact jolt as only answer

47 Comments
By Kaori Kaneko

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47 Comments
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So the logic being presented here is that the TPP will increase competition, push down prices, and force deregulation in Japan to allow local farmers to make innovations or find ways to lower costs and compete. A few will able to do this, most will have to sell out and companies using (and probably abusing) imported labour will enter the agriculture market to run unsustainable industrial agriculture farms. Is this spiral down approach what is meant by the survival of agriculture in Japan? Is this why we need the TPP?

-4 ( +11 / -14 )

The question is whether JA Zenchu has outlived its usefulness and is only enforcing economic rents.

11 ( +10 / -0 )

some Japan farmers see trade pact jolt as only answer

A bit like the old Vietnam war line "We had to destroy the village to save it". The standard claim that "market forces" will magically force farmers to magically do things more "efficiently". As if nobody already thought of trying that. What is actually going to happen if the TPP goes through is that the free market ideologues who believe protectionism causes "inefficiency" and "lack of competitiveness" are going to get a lesson in causality when Japanese agriculture goes down the toilet. The causality runs the other way. Whether or not Japanese agriculture is managed correctly or needs improvement at present is irrelevant, anybody who thinks you can have an agriculture industry on a mountainous pile of volcanic rocks without it being protected has their head in La-La land.

5 ( +14 / -9 )

It might be nice to see JA take a bit a of a hit.... Farmers need to have the autonomy to make decisions about their lively hood, not a political party!

9 ( +11 / -2 )

Japan's population is going reduce by tens of millions of people, so how in the world can anyone be talking about "growth?"

Deconstructing Japan is the best alternative. Instead of spending on wasted efforts to grow a shrinking economy with more concrete, put those same companies to work making parks. One out of every house and business will be empty soon, make them into parks and make Japan a more hospitable place for the same money.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

With the population in decline, why not make families tax exempt with 2 or more children. That would encourage marriage, more babies, and then the farmers would be back in demand within a short time.

If not tax exempt, then a tier for however many children you have. 1 = 30% tax reduction, 2 = 50% and so on.

Just an idea, but hey I'm no economist.

11 ( +14 / -3 )

In case you do not live in Japan, let me interpret the above; Japanese politicians do not like to take on entrenched vested interests such as farming so for the past 40 years the farmers have made a bundle on being protected and providing decent output. Now they are basically retired and don't need the money any more so the issue can be settled. This is why it takes 40 years to begin to solve any problem in Japan.

15 ( +15 / -1 )

Just an idea, but hey I'm no economist.

You are indeed not, and if you have any understanding of history, you'll note that Japan went too war and occupied several nations because it could not feed its population at the time. It is the same reason that Japan has had to dutifully follow the American masters after the war: dependency on the US breadbasket. Living far beyond its ecological carrying capacity, Japanese society needs to accept this great drop in population, forget about economic growth, accept a less commodified lifestyle, share work and income and think about how it can feed itself at a time of increasing food insecurity.

-4 ( +6 / -9 )

They will be old and tired, TPP or no TPP.

10 ( +10 / -1 )

Did anyone see the text of the treaty? Does anyone know what exactly is being negotiated in Hawaii? Was there any public discussion of the TPP in Japan (or elsewhere)?

Old, tired and BLINDFOLDED.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Deregulation and more competition is very important. However, I'm not so sure that the TPP is the way to do it though.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The TPP and free(r) trade is not supposed to mean that Japan can have a world leading agricultural industry.

The status quo of burdening the entire country down with inflated prices for agricultural products is hardly in the "national interest", if that term means what benefits the population generally.

Under free(r) trade, those farmers that are on top of their game will survive and thrive.

Those that don't have the motivation or ability will be welcome to retire, or otherwise move into other industries where their labour might better be utilised.

The rest of us will be able to enjoy improved price-performance for our money. And then do something more useful with the extra money than fund a geriatric agricultural workforce.

A step in the direction of progress.

Japanese society needs to ... think about how it can feed itself at a time of increasing food insecurity.

That's just going to encourage more whaling.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Farming villages are dying out. That is clear

And also very sad. A way of life that will be replaced (if TTPP is enacted) with cheap overseas rice, probably GM tainted rice to boot. Farming communities across Japan will be destroyed for ever. The invisible hand of the free market will slowly, or perhaps quickly, choke the life out of them. Very sad indeed.

-5 ( +5 / -10 )

Japan will never be able to compete on cost or quantity; Japanese farmers have shown that they can compete based on quality.

While there are aspects of the TPP with which I disagree (including the fact that the few parts about it that have come to light have only done so because they were leaked to WikiLeaks), I think that the Japanese agricultural sector needs to be massively deregulated. At the moment all the tariffs seem to be doing is fattening JA's bank account.

I don't think that it is any coincidence that the farmers with the least protected agricultural products produce top-quality products; while those with the most protected products often produce garbage... with the exception of rice. Take away the tariffs and what will happen? The dairy industry will have to sink or swim... they will have to start producing good butter and good cheese (without shortages); poor people will probably start to buy cheaper rice, while the middle and upper classes will continue to buy Japanese; wheat farmers are probably screwed, but there are other things that they can grow.

In general, I think that Japan's ag sector will have to adapt, but that is only because protectionism has locked it in the past.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

I don't actually agree that the agriculture sector in Japan needs to be broken down. But for the sake of argument, lets say it does - the TPP is not the right way to do that.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

will TPP mean we can get butter?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

A bit like the old Vietnam war line "We had to destroy the village to save it". The standard claim that "market forces" will magically force farmers to magically do things more "efficiently". As if nobody already thought of trying that. What is actually going to happen if the TPP goes through is that the free market ideologues who believe protectionism causes "inefficiency" and "lack of competitiveness" are going to get a lesson in causality when Japanese agriculture goes down the toilet. The causality runs the other way. Whether or not Japanese agriculture is managed correctly or needs improvement at present is irrelevant, anybody who thinks you can have an agriculture industry on a mountainous pile of volcanic rocks without it being protected has their head in La-La land.

Just a typical post of yours that has a lot of fancy sounding words and run-on sentences to sound intelligent, but in the end says nothing. Except that Japan basically should do nothing. And that's working great, isn't it?

-1 ( +5 / -7 )

Japan has for more than 3 decades running done basically NOTHING about making farming more efficient & profitable, so it only has itself to blame, the problems Japan faces have NOTHING to do with the TPP

Its only that the TPP is whats happening now is al!

Also JA is an albatross around farmers necks, a lot of them are trapped by JA

I live on yama above rice fields & all the farmers are 60+yrs of age, their little plots often are not even side by side but scattered all over the place

Bottom line is Japan is doing this to itself!

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Eh... Japan hasn't been self sufficient since..well before WWII. The idea/fear that "We can't let TPP because we'll be dependent on importing food" is foolish because we already DO import so much, the only point now is by how much we want to spend or save for that imported food.

Japanese farming is incredibly, almost impressively, inefficient. I can't understand why each individual acre of rice field has to be managed by an individual farmer with his individual tractor. Each farmer requires a living wage off of that meager rice they produce, so they charge an arm and a leg for it.

Sure, some might have several fields, great! Still not a combine harvester.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZZFvZgXST4

0 ( +4 / -4 )

forget about economic growth, accept a less commodified lifestyle, share work and income and think about how it can feed itself at a time of increasing food insecurity. why should I accept a lower standard of living! Ive worked hard to make my company efficient, profitable and competitive all without governement welfare. why should J farmers be any different. Japan can make competitive efficient farms, they just need to do it with larger farms and a lot less farmers and without government welfare handouts!

3 ( +4 / -1 )

using (and probably abusing) imported labour will enter the agriculture market to run unsustainable industrial agriculture farms.

Where does the assumption come from that foreign labor is going to be imported to work the farms? It's ludicrous to think that the government is going to allow unskilled labor to take these jobs.

Japan has a stated policy of trying to attract professionals, everyone else is sol.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Where does the assumption come from that foreign labor is going to be imported to work the farms? It's ludicrous to think that the government is going to allow unskilled labor to take these jobs.

Isn't this already happening with their trainee program?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

@reckless - sorry, but the farmers are not getting rich. The subsidies provide approximately enough to cover most of the costs to produce for a small-scale rice farmer. The small scale farmer makes his money at a day job or from his pension, not from his paddy. If that were not the case there would be no subsidy already. If the subsidy is gone most of the small-scale farmers would immediately let their paddies go fallow and we would see Japan's 40% food self-sufficiency drop even further. This is a good idea only if you think Japan should be dependent upon other nations for its food supply.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@shiboritate: You make good points but I said they made a "bundle" which they do considering they get paid to do something in a grossly inefficient way compared to other countries.

Anyways, Japan is already dependent on other nations for its food supply because the old time farmers have no incentive to integrate into larger more efficient farms which would increase their output at lower cost. Now that they have waited so long they may not be able to compete at all. Had they grabbed the bull by the horns so to speak, Japanese farms might now be larger, more efficient and more competitive. A minor surgery delayed now requires major amputation without an anaesthetic.

I am sure Japanese farmers will survive to some extent as they are diligent and produce some good stuff, but the market for 50 dollar steaks, and 100 dollar melons is high end at least where I am from.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

What is the tragedy if Japan's food self-sufficiency rate goes down to say 20%? (It probably will anyway, looking at average farmer ages.)

Places that produce lots of food are often highly dependent on other places for other stuff, like oil, or telecommunications equipment. Different places are good at different things. Free trade enables people to get richer from doing what they are relatively good at.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Isn't this already happening with their trainee program?

Which "trainee" program? The international exchanges are for people to study here and take back what they learn to their home countries. If you are talking about the nursing program that is another story.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

I wonder if the two people in this article even exist? Sure smelled like TPP (Total Propaganda Piece)

0 ( +3 / -3 )

@reckless - ok fair enough - but I still think it will be a tragedy to see terraced rice paddies and millenia-old traditions vanish all so that ADM and Monsanto can get richer. @fxgai - the tragedy will be if japan ends up in a conflict with a large neighbor that decides to blockade food flowing into japan. I could probably reduce my diet by half but not by 80%. It's an issue of sovereignty. I regret that I don't trust other nations to watch out for Japan's best interests.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I meant to say "...one of every fourth house..."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I meant to say "...one of every fourth house..."

That would be one in sixteen houses.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Agriculture in Japan needs a huge shakeup. It's run for the benefit of part time farmers who have no interest in kaizen. The tiny minority who farm full time and welcome change get outvoted within JA every time.

That said, the vast majority of the TPP is not about trade, agricultural or otherwise. It's a huge corporate power grab, and should not be welcomed just because you think it'll make rice cheaper. The free trade part of the treaty is mostly window dressing for propaganda purposes, and I wouldn't be surprised if huge concessions and opt-outs are available. As shown in the documentary "King Corn", even maize, the biggest of big agriculture in the US, is heavily supported by subsidies. By extension, meat production that uses tons upon tons of maize is also subsidized. Free trade in the agricultural sector is basically a sham and a Pandora's Box that doesn't bear the kind of legal challenges the TPP actually welcomes from interested parties (read: corporations).

Change agriculture in Japan by all means. One of the fastest growing groups in Japan is the urban (working) poor who can't keep overpaying for food. Just don't welcome this treaty to change Japanese agriculture because that's not what it is for. Its about protecting corporations from you the consumer, the citizen, the worker, the pollution victim, .... It's about taking your rights away.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The only sector that Japan cannot compete is the agricultural for a million obvious reasons. But it's a way to dether China from taking world economy. Somehow. In the end all od us will be eating California rice and drinking australian Milk

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Japan has to be able to grow its own food or they will have to buy whatever food at whatever price from other countries. There is nothing wrong with supporting farmers. The TPP helps agricultural conglomerates, not farmers.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Farmboy

Japan has to be able to grow its own food

Yes, it's called "food security".

The politics appears to be about making Japan increasingly dependent on foreign supplies or "food insecure".

It's actually a very serious issue.

A nation should be as self-sufficient as possible first and foremost. There's actually another war being fought at present which is not being discussed, one over marine food resources.

Japan is no angel in this department but a little more principled and controlled than China, which is going to eat Asia into starvation.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

@shiboritatesan: I basically agree with you but I have 3 sons who eat a lot and I pay out the arse to prop up inefficient farmers. I would like the personal choice to buy delicious NZ butter at a decent price, and fruits from the US, etc. We generally avoid Chinese stuff for obvious reasons. I can say with certainty that my wife will never buy non-Japanese rice while we live in Japan so my changes would mainly affect fruit growers and butter makers.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

shiboritate,

@fxgai - the tragedy will be if japan ends up in a conflict with a large neighbor that decides to blockade food flowing into japan.

I think Japan should get richer through free trade, so that it will be more economically powerful. Economic power will give Japan all the food security it needs.

If a large neighbour ever gets to blockade food flowing into Japan, that would mean Japan were already poor and screwed. People can always start growing more food again then. (Unless stupid government regulations prevent it.)

overchan,

In the end all od us will be eating California rice and drinking australian Milk

Not as long as lots of people opt for produce made elsewhere. It's all about consumer choices.

Farmboy,

Japan has to be able to grow its own food or they will have to buy whatever food at whatever price from other countries.

Yes, if Japan becomes a pauper nation, then Japan would be out-bid by other nations around the world and struggle to secure food. That's the time when it will be appropriate for agriculture to be ramped up in Japan.

But Japan (for the time being) is relatively rich, and there is no question of Japanese money being able to secure food.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Just a typical post of yours that has a lot of fancy sounding words and run-on sentences to sound intelligent, but in the end says nothing. Except that Japan basically should do nothing. And that's working great, isn't it?

OK, I'll simplify things for Mr. Ivy League. Japanese agricultural problems are caused by the country being a bunch of volcanic rocks in an age of globalization, not protectionism. Is the industry being managed and operated as well it could be? Probably not. But PREDICTION!!!: A further reduction in protectionist policies will make things worse not better. Feel free to agree or disagree with the prediction but just drop the reading comprehension problem schtick, cause I'm not buying it.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

On a positive note. Take the current drought in California for an example. For 9 years I could never buy a head of Romaine lettuce where I'm at. Then Costco comes along, and I can get California Romaine. Then the drought really kicks in, and now I'm buying Romaine from Nagano, where I couldn't buy it before. So, it is possible for Japanese farmers to diversify, and I'd much rather buy locally than overseas, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. And by the way, make your own damed Caesar dressing!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Japanese agricultural problems are caused by the country being a bunch of volcanic rocks

You've never actually seen a paddy field then. Rice doesn't grow from rocks, don't you know. Sheez.

A further reduction in protectionist policies will make things worse not better.

Average age of farmers is 67, and there are shortages of things like butter in Japan at a time when global dairy prices are crashing.

So go ahead, define "worse".

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

fxgai

It's all about consumer choices.

Unfortunately.

Unfortunately "consumer choices" are too wide open to manipulation, artificial creation, and the costs of ignorance which spill out onto the rest of society and the environment.

Air freighting lettuces from California, or milk from New Zealand being a perfect example.

The corporations make profits by excluding the real and actual costs their activities incur, e.g. air and water pollution, the waste of valuable non-renewable resources, climate change etc.

The corporations don't care.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

The richer people get, the more capacity they have to look after the environment. Free trade makes people richer, and therefore free trade is good for the environment, not bad for it.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

You're joking, right? You're trolling for flames, surely?

Next you're going to tell us how "free trade" is good for workers and union rights in developing nations too?

The no evidence to suggest that "capacity" translates into activity, and plenty to counter it; especially when it comes to unsustainable lifestyles and diets.

Free trade, of the sort you are writing, is a robbery and destruction of the environment making a tiny few richer but impoverishing and disempowering the many.

There's no one more invested in sustain the environment than someone's whose home, land and living is immediately dependent on its upkeep.

Trust me, the wheat and pork traders in Chicago or NYC could give a damn. It's just all points on the computer for them

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Free trade makes people richer, and therefore free trade is good for the environment, not bad for it.

The only people who will become richer from the TPP will be corporate executives, and they have more motivation to not be good to the environment than to be good to it.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I live in the Japanese countryside. There are lots of farmers and lots of small scale agriculture. It may be inefficient, but efficiency isn't always the most important value. The current system supports farming communities.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

You've never actually seen a paddy field then. Rice doesn't grow from rocks, don't you know. Sheez.

Oh my, that is really quite an "astute" comment. And by extension it means that rice can only be grown on land which is not rock, and the size of each individual farm is restricted by the amount of non-rock land that be connected together. But I am sure that such physical constraints are much less important than fantasy economic theories in explaining the present situation.

So go ahead, define "worse".

I suggest if you don't understand the meaning of "worse", you try consulting a "dictionary".

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@Stranger_in_a_Strange_Land

Thank you.

All you have to do is look at the decline of "mom and pop" farming the US to see what the big agri-corps are planning from Japan.

And, yes, it will be a damn shame. On a par with the fire bombing of all Japanese cities that destroyed so much historical and cultural wealth during WWII.

We live in a bizarre world where gambling on 1s and 0s that don't even exist on a computer screen is worth millions, where producing the food our bodies all need to survive is worth as little as they can make possible.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

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