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Fundamental agricultural reforms modeled after the European system of direct payments to farmers to help strengthen their sector’s competitiveness and promote trade liberalization will be carried out, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara vowed Monday.

Speaking at a forum for institutional investors, the foreign minister said Japan will pursue high-level free-trade agreements with its economic partners and at the same time encourage “a flourishing agricultural sector and prosperous rural districts at home.”

Maehara said both the European Union and South Korea have introduced drastic reforms to brace for the impact that regional market integration and liberalization will have on the farm sector.

The direct payment system in the 27-nation regional bloc has “succeeded in achieving two goals at once: bringing benefits to the consumer by reducing high tariffs and making producers more competitive,” he said.

Through the system, farmers can better prepare for cheaper imports flowing into the domestic market due to trade liberalization and causing the prices of domestic produce to fall.

Politically sensitive farm products, including rice, sugar, wheat and dairy products, are heavily protected with high tariffs. For example, a 778 percent tariff is imposed on milled rice imports.

The government is set to work out a basic farm reform policy in June, around the time it plans to decide whether to join negotiations for the U.S.-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement being negotiated by nine countries in the region.

Maehara also said Japan “can look to increase both public and private-sector investment in agriculture overseas” to help secure a reliable and stable supply of food for the country.

“The introduction of safe, dependable and high-quality food production technology would help to increase production” abroad, he said. “At the same time, a part of the resulting harvest could be exported to Japan, leading to a win-win situation.”

As an example, Maehara said Japan can export its solar-powered “vegetable factory” technology to regions with scarce water resources, including the Middle East and Africa. The technology, which allows for the cultivation of produce such as leaf greens using only artificial lighting, will help solve water and food shortages as well as environmental problems, he said.

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