While American and Japanese trade negotiators hammer out the final sticking points in a potential Pacific Rim free trade agreement, Japanese farmers and farm advocacy groups are quietly working behind the scenes to pressure Japanese politicians to oppose free trade.
For the past several years, a major component of American agricultural policy has centered on free trade and boosting U.S. farm exports. Last year, farm exports reached record highs of $137 billion, helping to drive farm incomes to record heights. Part of this increased farm trade was the result of free trade agreements with Panama, Columbia, and South Korea, agreements that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack had been pushing hard.
While U.S. agricultural and trade officials are behind free trade, Japan is currently less enthusiastic. While major Japanese companies like Mitsubishi and Toyota are pushing free trade, many farmers see it as a threat to their already unstable economic position.
While farming contributes very little to Japan’s $5.9 trillion gross domestic product, the Japanese electoral system gives rural communities enormous clout in the Japanese government, and the farmers in Japan’s rural communities are worried that free trade and the elimination of tariffs on major Japanese crops (primarily rice) could make it difficult for Japanese farmers to compete.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer