Farm, business lobbies push tie-ups

Kyodo

The nation’s largest farm and business lobbies have agreed to increase tie-ups to boost the competitiveness of the domestic agricultural industry as Japan and 11 other countries try to hammer out the Trans-Pacific Partnership before the end of the year.

The two sides agreed Monday to work on expanding exports of agricultural products, especially of processed foods, and to promote development of new technologies to boost productivity, according to an official of the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives.

“We’d like to strengthen Japan’s agriculture with bold ideas,” Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of Keidanren, said at a meeting with Akira Banzai, president of the JA-Zenchu farm lobby.

It was the first time the two sides have met since talks broke down in 2011 over whether Japan should participate in the TPP negotiations.

Keidanren aims to promote more participation by Japanese firms in agriculture. JA-Zenchu, which strongly opposes the TPP, apparently has decided to work with Keidanren to enhance the competitiveness of the agricultural sector, given that a TPP pact would cut import tariffs and result in more cheap produce from overseas.

The government also plans to abolish its control of rice production in fiscal 2018 — a major policy shift to stimulate the highly protected industry before the TPP deal is struck.

Banzai told reporters after the meeting that his lobby and Keidanren still differ in their opinions over the direction of the country’s agriculture, but he hopes the two sides will be able to narrow those differences for the sake of the farming industry.