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2008年8月 1日 (金)


(Jul. 31, 2008) The Yomiuri Shimbun

Japan must face need for agricultural reform

WTO交渉決裂 農政改革の緩みは許されぬ(731日付・読売社説)

The latest breakdown in talks under the World Trade Organization should not be allowed to end efforts to promote free trade.


On Tuesday, ministerial talks in the WTO's Doha Round of free trade talks in Geneva collapsed despite a historic deal being within sight at one point.


The seven-year-old Doha Round was aiming to reach a final agreement within the year. These hopes now look all but dashed, with some predicting discussions will be frozen for an extended period with a new U.S. administration set to take charge following the presidential election in November.



The latest round of talks joined by 153 nations and territories was trying to reduce or remove tariffs on agricultural and industrial products in an effort to boost the global economy.


Failure to reach an accord means a loss of great advantages for WTO members. The WTO and its members must therefore work out ways of ensuring a breakthrough as soon as possible.


The ministerial talks almost reached agreement on a set of compromise proposals presented by WTO Director General Pascal Lamy.


However, the United States failed to persuade China and India to compromise over conditions for invoking safeguards, or emergency import restrictions, on agricultural products. The two emerging economic powerhouses have demanded a loosening of such conditions under the so-called special safeguard mechanism.




Japan fails to make presence felt


The failure of the talks also has highlighted the increasing clout of rapidly growing powers such as India and China, as well as the declining influence of the United States and Europe, who were supposed to be leading negotiations.


Japan, for its part, failed to make its presence felt at the WTO talks after resisting liberalization in the agricultural sector.


In Lamy's compromise proposals, the percentage of key agricultural products treated as exceptions to cuts in tariffs imposed on high-tariff products would, in principle, be 4 percent of all farm products. In special cases, the rate could be allowed to increase to 6 percent.


Japan's demand for setting the rate at 8 percent or higher was rejected.

With Japan pushing other WTO members to accept its claim that rice and other products are "sensitive," other countries were expected in turn to argue for major cuts in tariffs on many other agricultural products.



Some observers have breathed a sigh of relief, saying the collapse of the talks meant this kind of crisis has been averted. However, we believe the collapse should be regarded as a temporary reprieve.





Pressure for change to intensify


There will likely be no end to foreign pressure on Japan to open its agricultural markets, and the nation will therefore have to structurally reform its agriculture sector to increase productivity and make it internationally competitive.


Meanwhile, Japan's export-oriented firms were dealt a heavy blow with the failure to reach a deal that would have seen cuts in tariffs imposed by developing countries on industrial products such as automobiles and household appliances.


At the global level, it is expected that the WTO's central role in international trade negotiations will be diminished further, with efforts toward more bilateral and regional economic partnership agreements correspondingly set to intensify.


In terms of trade policy, Japan should therefore place priority on both the WTO and economic partnership agreements.

As things stand, Japan has concluded or signed EPAs with only eight nations--such as Singapore--and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, while negotiations with agriculture giant Australia and other countries are facing difficulties. Once again, the sticking point in such negotiations is the issue of liberalizing Japan's agriculture market.


If the government wants to bolster Japan's EPA policy, it will have to accept agricultural reform as an inevitable task.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 31, 2008)

20087310150  読売新聞)


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