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LDP flip-flop on ‘untouchable’ tariffs raises farmers’ ire

Kyodo

Government officials scrambled Monday to play down remarks by a Liberal Democratic Party-led lawmaker who said Japan will examine anew whether its list of five untouchable import tariffs can be modified for the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal.

Koya Nishikawa, head of the LDP’s TPP panel, told reporters Sunday in Nusa Dua, Indonesia, where the negotiations are under way, “We need to consider whether we can take (exceptional items) out” under the negotiation policy Japan adopted in line with the LDP’s proposal.

On Monday, LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba tried to play down Nishikawa’s remarks by saying the LDP might consider reducing tariffs on processed products in sensitive areas so growers of the items won’t be hit hard.

Nishikawa’s remark “doesn’t mean the LDP has dropped its pledge to protect the five items,” Ishiba said, referring to imports of rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and sugar.

The government is under strong pressure to retain tariffs on the five items to protect domestic agriculture, but challenges are expected in its attempt to protect those sectors from cheaper foreign produce.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said separately Monday the government “may examine the list of items but not on the assumption that tariffs will be eliminated on the five items.”

“Every country has its own areas that need protection,” Suga said, adding that the LDP-led government will make concerted efforts on the matter.

Nishikawa’s remarks came under immediate fire from farmers.

“This is not what we’ve been promised,” said Motokatsu Ishizawa, a 64-year-old dairy farmer in Hokkaido. “Japan should leave the TPP if it can’t protect the five items.”

In Okinawa, sugar cane grower Hitoshi Kanagawa, 54, said: “When we met with the farm minister in Tokyo, he promised Japan won’t budge on the five items.”