By SHINDO Eiichi
Professor Emeritus of Tsukuba University
It is time to think over how Japan should deal with the impacts of the FTA just concluded between the U.S. and Korea, which completely ruled out rice as the subject of tariff free articles to protect the agricultural sector in Korea. Hence, it is time for us to regain the competitiveness in the U. S vis-à-vis Korean exported goods, and at the same time to explore the way to regenerate agriculture in Japan, The answer should be the dual strategies both to improve the deteriorated ratio of food self-sufficiency, and to take advantages of the current global revolution in information technologies and environment conservation. It is easy to promise, but difficult to realize, the improvement of the food self-sufficiency ratio and of the deteriorated welfare policies, so as to regain and maintain the economic growth, since the welfare policies would need the vast amount of financial revenue. The growth strategy would be impossible unless we make a radical shift from the conservative neoliberal policy sacrificing the weak and the social safety-nets. It would be also impossible to turn the current food self-sufficiency ratio from 40 percents, the lowest one among the developed countries, even to 50 percents, unless we make the drastic change in the traditional policies of depending heavily on the governmental subsidies that Japan has adopted for the past half a century. Even in the U.K., it took twenty years to improve the food self-sufficiency ratio from 45 percents in 1965 to over 70 percents in late 1980's. The key ingredient for the agricultural regeneration should be to adopt the "individual household income support system," which the EU countries including the U.K. have adopted. Hence, it is called the "EU formula." It certainly aims at fostering farmers by directly subsidizing each farming household based on the differences between the retail prices and the farms production costs against the imported agricultural goods.
In this respect, it is vitally important for the Japanese political parties either JDP or LDP to leave off the rice acreage reduction policy which has resulted in enormous increase in abandoned lands of cultivation. Instead, we should take the firm policy to stimulate the agriculture through the "individual household income support system." The current campaign manifestos of both the ruling party and the opposition remain fixed to a narrowly defined egocentric "one-country-approach." They have been so obsessed with the idea of the outmoded mythology of the Cold War centering on the U.S. -Japan alliance, using the semantics of the "diplomatic continuity." As a result, Japan has lost many chances to lead and coexist with Asia, which have been the driving forces of the world economy. We should take the strategy to expand export of our value-added agricultural products to the mega-market of rising and affluent East Asia. It will open up a window of opportunity to regenerate the Japanese agriculture. Hokkaido, "a kingdom of agricultural economy," with the comparatively large size of the farming land as the one in EU countries, would play a central role in initiating and pursuing this strategy through applying the edge of the information technology to the food industry sector. It is vital to enhance the added values of the agricultural products, to brand and commercialize them in broader affluent markets in Asia. The current agricultural sector is not the primary industry in a traditional sense any more. It has become so-called the "sixth industrial sector" multiplying both the second and the third ones through their closer cooperation with business, industrial and academic circles. Hokkaido would certainly contribute to revitalizing the Japanese agriculture and to building up the food supplying base for the regional food security regime in East Asia.
Regenerating the agriculture would also be one of the main vehicles to reduce the carbon dioxide, marking for strengthening the current environmental revolutionary movements through absorption of it by forests. These ecological policies were agreed and declared at the Hokkaido Toyako Summit in June 2008 and since then have been gradually implemented. Now we should promote more aggressively an East Asian community building with the emerging food and ecological security regime in East Asia and put forward a bolder strategy of strengthening the cooperative ties with Asia in these agricultural and environmental industry sectors as well. For the past 20 years, while the ratio of total amount of Japanese trade with the U.S. decreased from 27.4 to 13.7 percents, the one with China increased dramatically from 3.5 to 20.4 percents and the one with Asia makes up 48.8 and the one with Eurasia 73.9 percents respectively. This new reality of dramatic changes of global balance of power and trade indicates us the ways to regenerate Japan's economy and agriculture through our much closer ties with Asian nations.
Source: The Council on East Asian Community (CEAC) E-Letter (10 November 2009, Vol. 2, No. 7)