More than 2,000 representatives of farm groups from Japan and nine other countries demonstrated Friday in Tokyo against plans for a substantial reduction in agricultural tariffs.
The protest took place in Hibiya Park, next to the Imperial Hotel where informal World Trade Organization talks were scheduled to start in the evening.
The farming representatives, along with several dozen lawmakers, slammed the so-called Harbinson proposal, saying it would only benefit the United States and some other farm exporters.
They added that the proposal fails to acknowledge agriculture’s nontrade aspects, such as the maintenance of farmland and certain food self-sufficiency rates.
Other countries with farming delegates at the rally included South Korea and France.
“We cannot accept the Harbinson proposal,” said Isami Miyata, president of the Central Union of Agriculture Cooperatives (Zenchu).
Miyata met with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Thursday night to convey a similar message.
“It totally fails to take into account situations in each country’s agriculture sector and the importance of certain products to each country,” such as rice for Japan, he said.
The proposal, raised Wednesday by Stuart Harbinson, chairman of WTO agriculture negotiations, is expected to serve as the basis for the Tokyo meeting, in which officials from 22 select WTO economies were to gather for three days.
It advocates cutting import duties on farm products by between 25 percent and 45 percent over a period of five years. A proposal by Japan and the European Union meanwhile states that farm tariffs should be reduced by an average of 36 percent and a minimum 15 percent on an item-by-item basis.
On Thursday, Tadamori Oshima, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, dismissed Harbinson’s proposal as unacceptable, saying it is too ambitious in terms of numerical targets and would deal a devastating blow to Japan’s rice-oriented agriculture sector.
Former farm minister Shoichi Nakagawa told the rally Friday that Japan will keep striving to establish rules that allow each country’s agriculture industry to coexist on a long-term basis.
“We must break down demands by some countries, such as the U.S. and the Cairns group (led by Australia),” said Nakagawa, a House of Representatives member of the Liberal Democratic Party.
Earlier in the day, more than 100 lawmakers from the LDP, for which the rural sector is a major source of votes, urged the government to reject the Harbinson proposal, which, if adopted, would nearly halve Japan’s 490 percent rice tariff.
One rally participant, a vegetable farmer from Kumamoto Prefecture, said his business would probably go under should Japan swallow a deal to accept a larger volume of farm produce from the U.S. and other major exporters.
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