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Japanese farmers oppose FTA with Australia

Australia Broadcasting Corporation

Japanese farmers oppose FTA with Australia

The World Today - Friday, 1 December , 2006

Reporter: Shane McLeod

ELEANOR HALL: Australia’s proposed Free Trade Agreement with Japan is facing stiff opposition from Japanese farmers. The deal, if finalised, would be Australia’s largest bilateral trade agreement, and could open the traditionally closed Japanese market to Australian agricultural products. But Japanese farmers say the deal puts their futures at risk.

North Asia Correspondent Shane McLeod reports.

SHANE MCLEOD: Farmers from the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido have been vocal on their concerns about a free trade deal between Australia and Japan. They say they simply can’t compete if tariffs are removed from agricultural products.

Norio Nagai is the executive Director of the Hokkaido Union of Agricultural Cooperatives.

(Sound of Norio Nagai speaking)

"Most of the agricultural products in Hokkaido are protected by high tariff barriers," he says.

"If the tariffs are removed then cheap produce from Australia will quickly come into the market. Agriculture products produced in Australia are cheap and we really can’t compete. We are making efforts to cut costs, but there is a limit. I don’t think we can easily match their competitiveness."

SHANE MCLEOD: Mr Nagai was part of a delegation from Hokkaido that was in Tokyo yesterday to take its concerns to MPs, ministers, and even Australia’s ambassador to Japan, Murray McLean.

Figures published by the local prefectural government estimate the consequences of an FTA could be the loss of nearly 50,000 jobs, and $15 billion for the local economy.

The farmers want beef, sugar, wheat and dairy excluded from the negotiations.

"If the FTA talks start with those items included," Mr Nagai says, "then Japanese agriculture will collapse before it gains competitiveness."

Australia’s argument is that nothing should be taken "off the table" before negotiations start. It says it’s prepared to be "flexible" on the final outcome.

Those familiar with Australia’s position point to the experience of Australia’s FTA with the United States. There nothing was "off the table", but the final deal excluded sugar, and allowed long timescales for the reduction of tariffs on beef.

The implication is Japan could expect similar treatment for some of its sensitive agricultural products. The position hasn’t won over Japan’s negotiators, who are also coming under more pressure from the farm lobby to protect the industry.

The challenge for both sides now is that there’s something of a deadline. Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard is due to meet Japan’s Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in the Philippines. The hope had been that the two men would agree to formally begin FTA negotiations at that meeting.

ELEANOR HALL: Tokyo Correspondent Shane McLeod.

 source: ABC