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2013年10月31日 (木)

減反見直し 政治主導で競争力強化を図れ

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 31, 2013
Politicians must take initiatives to boost competitiveness of Japan’s agriculture
減反見直し 政治主導で競争力強化を図れ(10月30日付・読売社説)

Strengthening the competitiveness of Japan’s agricultural sector is an urgent task in preparation for trade liberalization. A shift is necessary in this nation’s agricultural policy to place importance on core farmers.

The government and ruling parties have started reviewing the rice production adjustment system, or rice acreage reduction, with an eye toward possibly abolishing it. Under the system, the government sets yield targets and allocates them to farmers.

The rice acreage reduction policy is aimed at ensuring stable incomes for farmers by curbing rice production to prevent rice prices from falling due to oversupply. The policy was fully introduced in the 1970s to address surplus rice production.

However, high rice prices triggered a vicious circle, accelerating a shift away from rice consumption, thereby causing farmland to shrink. The government maintained its agricultural policy, which generously protected even small-scale farmers. This discouraged core farmers to produce the grain, reducing the vitality of Japan’s agriculture.

If the rice acreage reduction policy is reviewed, motivated farmers will decide on production volume on their own, by carefully assessing such factors as market trends and consumer preference, without being hampered by state-set targets. An improvement in productivity can also be expected.

Negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade framework are fully under way. If Japan is pressured to further liberalize its markets, competition against imported agricultural products will intensify. We believe it is appropriate to encourage farmers to make efforts to improve their business management through the opening up of large-scale farming via the rice acreage reduction policy review.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided to review the policy apparently because the next national election is not expected for up to nearly three years. In 2009, then Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Shigeru Ishiba also supported reforming the policy of cutting back rice paddies, but was unable to realize it due to opposition from agricultural organizations and some Liberal Democratic Party members.

Alleviate concerns

Some observers strongly believe that if the acreage reduction policy is abolished, rice prices will fall sharply due to increased production. Opposition against the policy review is smoldering, with some saying it will result in a decrease in the income of farmers and in fact diminish the competitiveness of this nation’s agriculture.

To alleviate these concerns and keep the negative effects of the policy change to a minimum, it would be beneficial to take measures to mitigate the impact, including introducing a transition period and phasing out subsidies to farmers who participate in the rice acreage reduction program.

Also, the income guarantee system for individual farmers that was introduced when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power should be reviewed immediately. The system provides subsidies to farmers who reduce the size of their rice paddies. If this system is maintained, small-scale farmers will refuse to give up their farmland in order to receive the subsidy, which goes against the policy of promoting large-scale farming.

The government should stop providing such subsidies and instead introduce a system to provide robust support for core farmers with high productivity.

The LDP is also discussing a new system to support farming villages in mountainous areas, among other places, in the name of preserving national land. Although regional development and environmental conservation are important, some ingenuity is necessary in designing the system that does not become a simple handout policy.

The Abe administration has identified agriculture as a new growth industry. In addition to reviewing the rice acreage reduction policy, the government also must speed up measures to reinvigorate Japan’s agriculture through political leadership, including deregulation aimed at encouraging companies to enter the agricultural sector.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 30, 2013)
(2013年10月30日01時25分  読売新聞)


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