Japan, Korea must save world trade
Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE
"Japan, Korea must save world trade"
The Nation (Thailand)
The article is an editorial by a Thai paper which strongly urges Japan, and ROK, to compromise their position to lower barriers on imports of agricultural produce.
There is no doubt that many in Japan engaged in activities or having some knowledge of world economy would agree to the key component of the commentator's argument that Japan's barriers for agricultural imports should be lowered. The process of reaching that opinion, however, may somewhat be diversified. While a good number of people share the view that it would be necessary for Japan to help developing countries in order for them to achieve better lives, in other words, considering it as an obligation for a developed country to act accordingly, many others believe that liberalization of agricultural produce is essential for Japan itself to seek safe, stable environment for its people, and provide a basis for maintaining a fluent society.
Just for an example, among myriads of reasons, the self-sufficiency ratio of food, based on calorie supply, of Japan is 40%. It means that Japanese people rely 60% of their nutrition on imported food. The number is one of the lowest even among the developed countries. France is 132%, and the US 125%, while in Germany, UK, and Switzerland the ratios are 96%, 74%, and 61% respectively. This means Japan needs to secure source of food abroad, and there is really no time to fool around to chat about restricting imports.
One point noticed in the article is that the writer seems to denounce FTAs, and prefer WTO to be promoted, because "FTAs will create more, not fewer, disparities in income and opportunity among the nations of the world." Without in any way disputing with this idealistic notion, it might worth noting that Japan, along with perhaps ROK, was virtually the only developed country in the world who was pushing for enhancing WTO, rather than negotiating FTAs, until mid 1990s.
By that time, however, practically every country was engaged in bilateral or regional economic relationship in one way or another, and Japan was about to begin to be shoved out of major commercial activities, because of tariffs and other regulations. (Thailand is a member of ASEAN (AFTA), just as a reminder.) Japan switched its policy priorities there, and the present approach apparently is to support WTO and its evolvement while seeking FTA with countries and regions where it would worth it.
Currently major concerns and discussions in Japan seem to be focused on FTAs, but it is facing the same opposing force. Thus, Japan is seen as endeavoring to avoid any bit of relaxation of agricultural imports. The stubbornness of Japan's representative is reported to be ridiculed by experts around the world, while many Japanese are becoming extremely frustrated by the inflexible stance of the vested interests.