The major economic powers of the Asia-Pacific region gathered on Sunday 14 November, in Yokohama, Japan, to progress on the creation of a vast free-trade zone concerning agricultural and industrial products. However, not all the countries concerned agree on the issue.
Accordingly in Japan, 3000 farmers took to the streets of Tokyo to protest against what they consider to be a harmful policy. “This liberalization will ruin farmers” predicted Mamoru Moteki, president of a federation of several agricultural cooperatives. Indeed, a free-trade agreement would involve the dismantling of subsidies paid to farmers in Japan and professional bodies are worried. According to the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, agricultural trade liberalization would have a direct and harsh effect on the industry: 90% loss of rice crops, severely affected yields for wheat, sugar, meat and milk, with a cost of around $49 billion and 3.4 million job losses.
Nevertheless, most Japanese farmers are well aware that the liberalization of agricultural markets remains essential because it can be a source of innovation and productivity. What they are simply demanding is: time to prepare and adapt. "We know that Japan cannot continue to oppose the liberalization of agricultural markets, but we must first reform Japanese agriculture, this trade liberalization is too sudden," said Koichiro Onda, a 34 year old farmer.
The fears of Japanese farmers reflect the crisis in the agricultural sector of industrialized countries. With trade liberalization, national farmers are currently undergoing change because they must be able to integrate a vast common market where production structures and agricultural policies are highly heterogeneous. To avoid the protectionist temptations and reflexes that are sure to arise if liberalization is too brutal, it is essential to:
- Proceed progressively with trade liberalization via specific policies for transition adapted to national and regional characteristics;
- Set up adequate regulatory mechanisms to optimize the positive effects of liberalization and diminish the adverse effects (price volatility, etc. ..)