PM, ABC Online, Australia
Japanese farmers up free trade protest
PM - Tuesday, 12 June 2007 18:46:00
Reporter: Shane McLeod
MARK COLVIN: Japanese farmers have stepped up their campaign against a proposed free trade deal with Australia.
More than one thousand of them marched through the centre of Tokyo today.
It’s the latest skirmish in a campaign designed to get special treatment for key home-grown products like beef, wheat and sugar under any deal.
Farmers say the future of Japan’s families on the land depends on continued subsidies and tariffs.
Tokyo Correspondent Shane McLeod.
SHANE MCLEOD: From across Japan they came to Hibiya Park in central Tokyo; more than one thousand farmers, determined to send a clear message to Japan’s politicians: no trade deals should be done without protection for the country’s farmers.
With Japan and Australia due to sit down next month for the latest round of negotiations for a free trade deal, the prospect of cheap imports from down south has Japan’s farmers worried.
Kazumi Kinoshita is a dairy farmer from Hokkaido, in Northern Japan.
(Kazumi Kinoshita translated)
"If the EPA talks between Australia and Japan are carried out as they have been, then Japanese agriculture will be on its way to destruction," he says. "Even now Japanese agriculture has been having difficulty in producing enough. We are, and we will continue to oppose it strongly."
The farmers’ ire was directed at the politicians and bureaucrats not far away, in Tokyo’s administrative district, Kasumigaseki.
But the farmers are largely resigned to the fact that the way the political breeze is blowing means an FTA between Australia and Japan looks more likely than not.
Nahoko Motohiro is a spokeswoman for the Japan Agriculture organisation, representing farmers.
(Nahoko Motohiro translated)
"Because Japanese politicians will be taking part in the negotiations," she says, "we want them to listen to us. And we want people in other countries to listen to us and understand the situation of Japanese farmers, and the current situation of the Japanese agriculture industry."
The farmers want special treatment - that is, the continuation of tariffs, quotas and subsidies for key commodities including wheat, dairy products, beef, and sugar.
As an example, the average wheat farmer, if he qualifies for government assistance, receives a subsidy worth roughly three times the market price for his sacks of grain.
Farmers say that the small size of land in Japan, and the high costs of farming, mean that there’s no other way to make farming viable.
Without the subsidies, they say, Japan’s already low food-self-sufficiency ratio of 40 per cent would be even lower.
Australia has signalled it’s prepared to offer special measures for some commodities, but any concessions would have to be hammered out in the negotiations.
And if the farmers were hoping for support from their traditional political allies, the governing Liberal Democratic Party, they might be less than impressed with the approach of Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.
Earlier this year he repeated the call for Australia to be sensitive about Japan’s domestic concerns. But he’s made it clear that he sees a trade deal with Australia a key part of a strengthening relationship between the two countries.
And with neighbours like South Korea making big trade progress in signing trade deals with the United States, the signs are that Japan’s negotiations with Australia won’t be the last.
For PM this is Shane McLeod reporting from Tokyo.