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Japan hardliner hits FTA hopes

The Australian, Canberra

Japan hardliner hits FTA hopes

By Rick Wallace, Tokyo correspondent

9 June 2010

Japan’s new Prime Minister has installed an eccentric arch protectionist and former beef and pork farmer in the agriculture and fisheries portfolio, dealing a blow to Australia’s hopes of finalising a free trade agreement.

Naoto Kan’s appointment of Masahiko Yamada in agriculture looms as a major obstacle to Australia’s hopes of winning greater access to Japanese markets for our farming and services sectors.

The outspoken Mr Yamada has written about Australian agriculture destroying Japan’s food industry under an FTA and is seen as close to the country’s powerful farming lobby, which opposes food imports and reductions in farm subsidies.

While Australia has been dealing with Trade Minister Masayuki Naoshima and Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada on the matter, Mr Yamada and the Agriculture Ministry are expected to participate in deliberations.

As Fisheries Minister, Mr Yamada will also have carriage of whaling, over which Japan and Australia are at loggerheads.

Mr Yamada, 68, has penned several books dealing with the perils of relying on food imports, including Japan Will Be Crushed By Imported Foods, America Will Destroy Japan’s Food Industry and Japan To Be Smashed By China On Food.

He wrote a "predictive" novel on the same theme titled The Japan-US Food War: When Japan Goes Starving.

In an article published on his website in 2006, Mr Yamada railed against the proposed FTA.

"It is certain that Japan’s agriculture will suffer catastrophic damage if we are to start negotiations in the present situation," he said.

"It will especially hurt beef, dairy products, wheat and sugar. Total domestic production value for these products are Y=1.48 trillion. Out of that amount Y=400 billion shall be replaced by Australian products, according to the government estimation.

"If that’s the case the US and Canada will not keep their mouth shut. They will demand for drastic cuts in import tax to the agriculture products including rice."

A lawyer by trade, Mr Yamada ran his own small beef and pork farm in the 1970s, which suffered under market forces around the time of the first oil price shock.

In Japan this week, Mr Okada told Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean that Japan remained determined to finalise the FTA. Mr Crean told The Australian the Kan government was serious about reform. But Mr Yamada’s promotion from vice-minister for agriculture is likely to trigger a re-evaluation from the Rudd government on Japan’s intentions.

Mr Yamada’s appointment was announced along with the rest of Mr Kan’s ministerial line-up yesterday.

As expected, the changes were few with most key players retaining their spots, including Mr Okada, Mr Naoshima and Transport Minister Seiji Maehara.

The main change was the appointment of Yoshihiko Noda, who will fill Mr Kan’s shoes in finance. Mr Kan appointed Koichiro Gemba, an advocate of lifting Japan’s 5 per cent consumption tax to fix its finances, to the role of policy chief and minister in charge of civil service reform.

Mr Kan filled several key administrative posts this week including the appointments of Yoshito Sengoku as cabinet secretary and Yukio Edano as the DPJ’s general-secretary.

Both men are opponents of deposed general-secretary Ichiro Ozawa, and their appointments appear designed to freeze out the veteran DPJ powerbroker, who was forced to resign his post by the departing Mr Hatoyama.

His only major nod to forces aligned to Mr Ozawa was the appointment of Mr Yamada, who is seen as a supporter.