There is one caveat in the aforementioned discussion: despite masterminding the agreement, the USA may not actually ratify it. Of the remaining US presidential candidates at the time of writing, none of them openly support the TPP, and the two likely contenders, Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, have come out against it. Clinton’s opposition is opportunistic, and reflects a realization that in the current political climate, FTAs are electoral dynamite. Realistically, if Clinton wins she will attempt to push through the TPP, and although she faces Republican opposition in both Houses, the Republican Party tends to be more favourable to free trade. If Trump wins, all bets are off, not only on the TPP, but across a wide range of issues in the Japan-US relationship, from trade to military bases. Regardless of domestic US politics, the TPP or something resembling it is likely to go ahead in the Asia-Pacific region, with or without US participation. The agreement will pass smoothly through the other member states, including Japan. Some form of regional trading bloc comprised of the regional states wary of China, with some level of US participation, remains the most likely outcome. It may not feature the depth and breadth of the TPP, but one thing is clear from the negotiations of the last years: agricultural policy is now a pawn in regional geopolitics.

This has massive implications for Japanese agriculture and food security, as great as the aforementioned post-war land reforms implemented by the US occupation. Those reforms forced the absentee landlords to sell their land to the government, who then sold it to the tenant farmers, ending the old system of centralized ownership and landless labour and creating the contemporary system of small, family-run farms. There is no shortage of irony in the fact that the agricultural system produced by those reforms is set to be reformed, once again under US auspices, to create a system based once again on a centralized ownership and farm-labourer model. MAFF, whose policies have aimed at preserving the old system, has failed to prevent the decline of production, the decline of rural regions, and the decline of selfsufficiency. However, liberalization, whether through the TPP or some other means, is not a panacea, rather, it may serve to further exacerbate some of these trends and speed up the hollowing out of rural Japan.

So far, the TPP has been agreed but not yet ratified by all participants, which gives the Abe and subsequent administrations time to develop and implement amelioration policies to prevent the damage to Japan’s peripheral regions and perhaps even utilize the TPP as a catalyst to not only reform agriculture but breathe new life into the countryside. Yet as critics note, this will require a far more long-term and thoughtful strategy than gentan or other payment policies that have been implemented thus far.[1] One clear impact of the TPP is that it will increase Japan’s already high food import dependency and replace a large proportion of domestic rice consumption with imports. Specifically, it is likely that Japanese consumption of US rice, beef, pork, and dairy products will soar.[2] There is nothing inherently ‘wrong’ with a policy of food import dependency, indeed some states - such as Singapore - manage such policies in a way that leads to high quality, low price food for their citizens. However, such countries usually do not have substantial rural populations dependent upon a rural economy based on agriculture. Yet, Japan’s decision to join the TPP was not due to a desire to liberalize agriculture or revitalize the countryside, rather it was in large part a function of the Japan-US alliance and regional geopolitics. Thus, in order to tighten the alliance and to balance against the rise of China, Japan has chosen to increase not only its security dependence, but also potentially its food security dependence on the USA. Japan’s post-Cold War strategy offset various risks by hedging: developing close economic relations with China while maintaining the Japan-US security alliance. Such hedging strategies enable states to keep their options open across a wide range of policy areas. However, the advent of the Abe administration has seen a shift towards a more one-sided, US-centric strategy. This has significant consequences for Japanese farmers, food security, and the future of the Asia-Pacific region.

  • [1] ‘TPP Goi Ikinai no Hanei to Antei no Ishizue ni’, Asahi Shimbun; Yoshida. ‘Japan Farmers’;Yamashita, ‘Ensuring Japan’s Food Security’, Yamashita, ‘Japan’s Perilous Decline’.
  • [2] United States Department of Agriculture, ‘Fact Sheet’.
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