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2010年12月 1日 (水)

農業開国 攻めの農政へ体質転換を急げ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 1, 2010)
Japan's farm sector must change itself
農業開国 攻めの農政へ体質転換を急げ(11月30日付・読売社説)

How should Japan's agricultural sector be resuscitated?

Intensifying discussions over the nation's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement shed light on the need for the administration of Prime Minister Naoto Kan to drastically reform agricultural policies.

Agricultural organizations and others are fanning a sense of crisis, insisting that TPP participation will cause the collapse of Japan's agricultural sector. However, before discussing the advisability of participating in the agreement, we all have to be aware that Japan's farming industry is clearly following a course of decline.

The foundations of Japan's farming industry have become extremely vulnerable as a result of years of overly generous protection through various domestic and international measures, such as massive subsidies and high tariffs.

It is time for the government to squarely face this reality and change the course of its policy so that the agricultural industry will be able to transform itself into one that is highly productive and internationally competitive. This will be a prerequisite for Japan to participate in the TPP agreement.

The government held the first meeting of its headquarters on promoting the revitalization of the food, agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries Tuesday to start considering concrete measures to achieve the goal. The headquarters reportedly plans to draw up basic principles in June and an action plan in October next year, but we wonder whether this will be too late.


Farm maladies can be cured

The domestic farming industry is in a critical situation. Currently, the nation's gross agricultural production totals a little over 8 trillion yen, a decline of 30 percent from its peak. The workforce in the sector has halved in the past two decades, and its average age has climbed to 66. In addition, the acreage of untended farmland continues to increase.

To break the grip of these trends, the government must firstly foster an environment in which motivated farmers will be able to exercise their business sense and promote profitable agriculture.

Farmland could be consolidated to promote large-scale farming to reduce production costs. The bond between farmers and consumers could be strengthened through reform of the distribution system to enable farmers to more easily purchase equipment and supplies and expand their sales routes. Foreign markets could be targeted, taking advantage of the high quality of Japan's farm products. These are just a few ideas.

There must be a variety of ways to give the farm sector vitality.

The government's fiscal burdens will be the focus of attention in promoting such measures. A certain amount of government spending will be unavoidable, but it will be important to limit the spending to projects that will lead to structural reforms of the agricultural sector.

Following the Uruguay Round agreement on agriculture in the 1990s, the government spent more than 6 trillion yen to help farmers deal with the effects of the accord.


Spend money thoughtfully

However, a large amount of the money ended up wastefully spent on useless projects, such as the construction of various facilities in farming villages and hot spring resorts. Even airports were built, along with expanding agricultural roads, as a way to promote the industry by transporting farm products by air. The spending could hardly be called effective.

The government also needs to review the income compensation program for all rice farming households, a system launched this year. Sixty percent of farming households have side jobs that provide them with a stable income. Unless the government's assistance is focused on full-time farming households, which play a central role in the industry, it will not strengthen the agriculture sector's foundations.

Every time the farming industry has emerged as an issue of contention, agricultural organizations and Diet members with vested interests in the industry, who have an eye on future elections, have perverted policies and hampered reforms.

Policymakers must remember to keep the nation's interests at heart, as they should encourage growth in "fields of rice" rather than pander to farmers as a way to cultivate "fields of votes."

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 30, 2010)
(2010年11月30日01時31分  読売新聞)


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