WASHINGTON – The government said Thursday it will rethink the policy of curbing domestic rice production, with a view to abolishing the state-set numerical yield targets and revising the subsidy system that serves to encourage farmers to reduce paddies.
The rethink is aimed at making rice production more efficient and eventually strengthening Japanese agriculture, which is expected to face tough international competition after the conclusion of the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, government sources said.
The government plans to have an Industrial Competitiveness Council subcommittee start reviewing the subsidy system at a meeting to be held on Thursday afternoon.
The agriculture subcommittee is expected to examine the idea of cutting part of subsidies for growers of rice for consumption as a staple food in order to step up income assistance for producers of rice for processed food and animal feed.
The government is hoping to receive the panel’s recommendations so it can draw up measures to reinforce agriculture by the end of November, the sources said, adding that related legislation may be introduced during the regular Diet session set to start in January.
But the policy review may not progress smoothly, as it would have a major impact on small farmers and is likely draw fire from agricultural groups, critics said.
Ox tongue tariffs out
The government is considering abolishing Japan’s tariffs on imported ox tongue in the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, sources said.
The government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party believe ox tongue imports are unlikely to surge following the elimination of the tariffs as about 90 percent of the product consumed in Japan comes from overseas, the sources said Wednesday.
Because the TPP basically aims to do away with all tariffs, Japan is reviewing the possibility of eliminating levies it imposes on some of the 586 tariff lines on its five key farm products — rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products, and sugar.
Japan has a 12.8 percent duty on ox tongue imports to protect domestic farmers and related industries, but some LDP members question the need for such tariffs.
Meanwhile, the government and the LDP are planning to retain levies on beans, pineapples and plywood that are not among the five key products.
The 12 TPP member countries — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam — aim to conclude a deal by year’s end.
Intellectual property talks
Member countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations started a working group meeting on intellectual property Thursday in Tokyo, where Japan is hosting a TPP meeting for the first time.
The negotiations on intellectual property, including patent terms for new drugs, have been major sticking points for the 12 TPP countries, and tough negotiations are expected through the end of the meeting on Monday.
The negotiating nations aim to conclude an overall TPP deal by the end of this year.
Negotiations on intellectual property “have the largest number of technical and contentious issues,” Japan’s deputy chief negotiator, Hiroshi Oe, told reporters before the meeting. “We intend to deepen discussions, as we have to wrap up the talks soon.”
Among issues in the area, the United States seeks extended patent terms for new drugs so drugmakers can recoup their huge development costs, while Malaysia opposes the idea, claiming it could prevent the diffusion of cheaper generic medicine.
Japan is calling for a stronger crackdown on piracy of such intellectual property as animation series and cartoon characters.
The TPP countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
Japan, U.S. clash
Japan and the United States discussed but failed to reach an agreement on automotive trade issues in the third round of three-day bilateral talks held here through Wednesday in relation to the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations.
“The United States is highly concerned with auto issues and there were times when we clashed harshly,” Takeo Mori, Japanese ambassador for economic issues, who headed his country’s team in the so-called parallel negotiations, told reporters after the meeting.
Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler, who led the U.S. team, said, “This third round of our parallel negotiations with Japan yielded some progress, although important work remains — particularly in the area of motor vehicles.”
While the United States requested reviews of Japan’s safety standards as well as its tax and distribution systems for automobiles, Japan maintained a cautious stance toward deregulation, according to sources.
In the bilateral talks, the two countries also discussed nontariff measures in the fields of insurance, intellectual properties and investment.
“In a way, the talks on auto issues are in a special situation,” Mori said, suggesting the negotiations are very difficult.
But he also showed readiness to speed up the bilateral talks, saying the two countries need to conclude the parallel negotiations before the targeted yearend finish of the TPP talks.
Japan and the United States plan to launch the fourth round of the parallel talks shortly.