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January 20, 2011 11:18 pm
Japan must not allow pressure from its declining agricultural sector to prevent the lowering of trade barriers to an emerging Pacific region trade group, according to the country’s new industry and trade minister.
In his first interview with international media since taking up the new position, Banri Kaieda promised support for efforts to revive the agricultural sector by promoting the development of related businesses such as tourism and the sale overseas of high-quality produce.
Resistance from the heavily protected agricultural sector has long made it politically almost impossible for Tokyo to agree “free trade” agreements with its biggest markets.
However, worries that its manufacturing sector is losing competitiveness – and the sight of rival South Korea sealing trade deals with the US and EU – have made the government keen to ensure that Japan can be part of the emerging Trans-Pacific Partnership trade bloc.
Mr Kaieda said the sector was at risk of “tapering off” because the average age of farmers had reached 66 and they had a general lack of successors. “Japan has to take this opportunity for national opening,” he said. “This is the crossroads where we decide whether to reform or not.”
Mr Kaieda’s appointment to the trade portfolio has been widely seen as a sign of the government’s determination to set a course for entry to the TPP and other trade deals – an interpretation the new minister strongly endorsed.
“In order to grow, Japan has to turn the energy of the Asia-Pacific into its own energy,” he said. “I was named to undertake this task.”
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