Japan Government Wants Free Trade. Japan Farmers Don’t.

The U.S. and Japanese governments want it. Mitsubishi backs it. Toyota Motor (TM) says it can’t compete without it. Yet whether Japan joins the biggest attempt at a free-trade pact may hinge on farmers like Tadashi Hirose. Hirose loses money on his 14 hectares (35 acres) of paddies in southwest Hokkaido, forcing him to take a second job at a construction company. Still, he says, if Japan joins the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, or TPP, the resulting competition from abroad would destroy his family’s livelihood and economically devastate Hokkaido, the top rice-producing region.

The number of Japanese farmers, full-time and part-time, is 2.5 million—pretty large for a country that is not a major exporter of farm products. Their contribution to Japan’s $5.9 trillion gross domestic product is tiny. Yet the farmers wield disproportionate clout in Japanese politics. “Because of the rural bias in Japan’s electoral system the farming lobby is very powerful, even though as a percentage of the economy it accounts for 1 percent,” says Risaburo Nezu, a former trade negotiator for Japan’s government and now a senior executive fellow at the Fujitsu Research Institute.

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Japan’s Farmers Protest Free-Trade Pact Driving Tractors Through Ginza

In an upscale neighborhood where Japanese buy their handbags and smartphones, furious farmers drove their tractors down the main road last week in their latest protest against a controversial, regionwide free-trade pact.

The stunt was an illustration of the way the country’s agricultural forces are pushing up against modern glitz. As Japan nears a self-imposed deadline to decide whether to participate in the U.S.-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership, it must first resolve a clash between farmers who think the pact will ruin them and exporters who want to reach new markets with lower tariffs.

Nine other countries, including the United States, have committed to the agreement, which would eliminate tariffs and trade barriers within 10 years. In Japan, though, the prospect of across-the-board trade liberalization has roused fundamental questions about the nation’s shrinking economy — and which of its sectors, business or agriculture, need the most help.

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Farmers look for signs of hope six months after Japan’s tsunami

Chie Nihei is standing beside a field of chest-high weeds piled with the remains of destroyed houses and a single gray van at her farm in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. Six months after the March 11 tsunami inundated her neighborhood, she still seems surprised by the state of the once-orderly fields where she and her husband have grown vegetables and rice for 30 years. Since the tsunami, they have been unable to grow any crops.

Inside their immaculate post-and-beam farmhouse, newly refurbished with shiny floors and tatami mats, Tsugio says the ocean brought thick layers of salty, debris-laden sediment – but also an unexpected gift of nutrients to his fields.

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