Japan Strives to Prune Its Agricultural Sector

Oct 24, 2018 | 11:00 GMT

A Tokyo supermarket sells beef imported from the United States in this February 2013 file photo.

A Tokyo supermarket sells beef imported from the United States in February 2013. Japan's trade partners are eager to crack open the country's famously protectionist agricultural sector.



  • The power of Japan's agricultural sector is waning, but the industry will continue to exert influence over decisions on trade for many years to come.
  • Reformers have enjoyed mixed success in curbing the influence of the agricultural lobby, but the country is likely to creep toward continued liberalization in its trade deals.
  • U.S.-Japan bilateral trade talks on farming could hit obstacles if Washington tries to push Tokyo to open up its agricultural sector to a degree that exceeds the level that Japan permitted in other recent trade deals. 
  • Japanese lawmakers could make concessions on agriculture during trade talks with the United States if they decide that the health of the country's car industry is more important.

As an island nation with limited arable land, Japan has long feared food shortages. For this reason, the country has had little choice but to defend its agricultural sector rigorously by attempting to insulate its farmers from economic headwinds and striving for self-sufficiency in food wherever possible. This focus on shoring up agriculture, however, has generated a farming population that has enjoyed outsized political clout in successive administrations. In fact, Japan's agricultural lobby, JA-Zenchu, has served as a reliable vote bank for decades for the Liberal Democratic Party, which, in turn, sheltered farmers and guaranteed itself continued support. But moderating Japan's agricultural protectionism and accelerating reforms has gained urgency since the United States threatened massive tariffs on Japan's critical automotive sector if Tokyo does not open up on agriculture. As bilateral trade talks begin in 2019, the Japanese government will need to balance the United States' strong-arm tactics against the...

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