Japan may opt to give up ‘sanctuary’ on TPP items

Akira Amari, minister in charge of TPP issues (second from left), speaks at a meeting of TPP-related Cabinet members at the Prime Minister's Office.

The government and ruling parties will begin considering whether tariffs on five categories of agricultural products that have been regarded as a "sanctuary" can be removed in tariff negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) multilateral trade initiative, in which 12 countries, including Japan and the United States, are participants, according to sources.

The government and the ruling parties have treated five categories of products-rice; wheat; beef and pork; dairy products; and farm products that are used as sweeteners, such as sugar cane-as key product categories for which tariffs should be maintained.

But now that the talks are facing difficulties, the government and ruling parties have to consider whether tariffs on some products in the categories can be removed.

Koya Nishikawa, chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's committee on the TPP, said Sunday he would consider removing items during his visit to Bali, Indonesia.

"We have to consider whether [some products in the five categories] can be removed [from subjects for maintaining tariffs]," Nishikawa told reporters.

Akira Amari, state minister in charge of TPP affairs, said Sunday in Bali, "It's helpful that our party will hold discussions," indicating that the government will start considering the issue in step with the LDP's review.

In response, LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba told reporters Monday morning at the LDP headquarters, "Unless we put individual items into consideration, we will not be able to lead the negotiations to our advantage."

His response suggests the LDP will verify details of individual items in the five key categories.

Ishiba added, "Though we will examine rice, wheat and other products item by item, it will not be a premise to removing tariffs. It will not run counter to our party's election pledge that we will not remove tariffs unless a sanctuary is maintained."

In practice, the government and ruling parties will check whether there are any items whose import volume will not rapidly increase and will not damage domestic producers if tariffs are removed.

There are 586 product items in the five key categories. Of them, 58 are of rice and 51 are of beef.

In economic partnership agreements which Japan has signed with 13 countries and one region, Japan has never abolished tariffs on the five key product categories.

The LDP agreed to Japan's participation in the TPP talks on the condition that tariffs on the five key product categories will be maintained.

Committees on agriculture, forestry and fisheries of both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors also issued resolutions that abolishing tariffs on the five categories, including gradual tariff cuts in more than 10 years, will not be tolerated.

Therefore, the new plan will likely stir controversy.

In the tariff negotiations, all countries except Japan may negotiate to set the liberalization rates-percentages of product items on which tariffs will be abolished-to at least 95 per cent.

If Japan maintains tariffs on all five categories, the nation's liberalization rate will be 93.5 per cent.

Currently, many of the participating countries, including agricultural giant Canada, have demanded Japan raise the liberalization rate. If Japan sticks to maintaining the tariffs on the five key categories, it is possible that Japan will be at a disadvantage in the negotiations.

To prepare for this possible development, the government and ruling parties will identify items in the five categories which are least likely to be affected if the tariffs are abolished.

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