New farm minister follows Oshima’s lead

by Tomoko Otake

New agriculture minister Yoshiyuki Kamei said Tuesday he will seek a “realistic and balanced” agreement on farm trade liberalization during World Trade Organization negotiations, adopting the same stance as his disgraced predecessor.

Kamei, a veteran Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker, took office Tuesday afternoon as minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, following an attestation ceremony before Emperor Akihito at the Imperial Palace.

The former transport minister replaced Tadamori Oshima, who resigned Monday over financial scandals involving his secretaries.

“We will continue to work closely with the European Union to achieve our goal of reaching a realistic and balanced agreement,” Kamei told a news conference later.

Kamei’s appointment comes at a critical time for Japan, which is on the defensive at farm trade liberalization talks as it insists on protecting its farm industry.

Kamei refrained from elaborating on measures Japan might take in the negotiations, saying he will have to study the issue in detail before making any comments.

A senior Foreign Ministry official denied that the naming of Kamei will in itself influence the outcome of the negotiations, saying the talks are deadlocked and an agreement is presently nowhere in sight.

On Monday, WTO members missed a self-imposed deadline for setting numerical goals for tariff and subsidy cuts.

The latest proposal, released by WTO agriculture negotiations committee chairman Stuart Harbinson, calls for minimum cuts of between 25 percent and 45 percent and average reductions of 40 percent to 60 percent on all farm tariffs over five years.

Produce exporters such as the U.S., Australia and many developing nations are seeking large cuts, while high-tariff nations such as European Union members and Japan are calling for small reductions.

‘Realism’ request

Kyodo News Trade minister Takeo Hiranuma on Tuesday urged produce-exporting nations to be more “realistic” as a deadline for farm trade liberalization negotiations passed the day before.

“Although it is regrettable we could not reach an agreement, exporting countries making excessive requests need to be more realistic,” Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiranuma said.

Hiranuma said Japan will continue to ask exporters, including the U.S. and Australia, to compromise by working closely with the European Union.

Farm produce exporters, including many developing countries, and high trade-barrier countries, such as Japan and the EU, remain split on how much to slash import tariffs on farm goods.

The World Trade Organization formally gave up efforts to reach an agreement on the framework, or “modalities” on how to reduce import tariffs and subsidies after the Monday deadline was missed.

Stuart Harbinson, chairman of the WTO agriculture negotiation group, drew up a proposal on modalities in February, asking for a minimum 45 percent tariff cut for high-tariff products, including rice imported into Japan.

This proposal sparked criticism from both sides, and Harbinson compiled a second proposal on March 18 that again failed to close the gap.

The high-tariff states are calling for much less liberalization, while exporters want larger cuts in tariffs and subsidies.

The WTO is scheduled to hold a ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in September to try to reach a breakthrough.

Tariffs are one of the issues dividing countries involved in farm trade talks as part of the 145-member WTO’s current trade liberalization round, which was launched in Doha in 2001 with an overall deadline of Jan. 1, 2005.