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Trade deal threatens Japan's food security, former minister says

[TOKYO] Japan's food security and farm industry are threatened by a US-led Pacific trade agreement supported by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, according to a former Japanese agriculture minister.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership would deepen Japan's dependence on agricultural imports, undermining its control over food safety and security, Masahiko Yamada, a lawyer and minister in 2010 in the then Democratic Party of Japan government, said in an interview Thursday in Tokyo.

The opposition may prove to be another barrier for efforts by Japan and the US, by far the biggest economies among TPP members, to expedite talks on the agreement. Japan, which imports about 60 per cent of its food, cut its self-sufficiency target to 45 per cent as the government expands trade deals.

Mr Yamada, 73, said he plans to file a lawsuit against the government, claiming that the trade agreement violates the nation's constitution. He will hold a press conference Friday to announce his plans.

"The TPP could violate the Japanese right to get stable food supply, or the right to live, guaranteed by Article 25 of the nation's constitution," said Mr Yamada, who left the now- opposition party in 2012 as he was against then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's push for Japan to join the TPP.

While Japan and the US have yet to reach a bilateral accord to pave the way for the 12-nation agreement, US Senate advanced a measure Thursday to allow President Barack Obama's legislation to accelerate approval of trade pacts. Prospective members of the TPP have missed a series of deadlines since the US announced its participation in 2009.

A further delay to the deal raises the risk that China will set regional rules for commerce, after lining up 57 nations for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, according to Tetsuhide Mikamo, director at Marubeni Research Institute in Tokyo.

The TPP could boost demand for Japan's food exports among the 800 million people in the member nations, or 10 per cent of global consumers, Agriculture Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said in an interview last month. Abe has set a target of doubling the country's shipments to 1 trillion yen (US$8.4 billion) by 2020.

Japan may have to slash beef tariffs to 9 per cent and pork tariffs to 50 yen a kilogram under the TPP, according to Mr Yamada.

"That would be a fatal blow to Japanese livestock farmers," he said. The country currently imposes 38.5 per cent tariffs on beef and a maximum 482 yen/kg duty on pork.

Hiroshi Oe, Japan's TPP ambassador, said rice is a politically sensitive product that must be protected, along with other grains, beef, pork, dairy and sugar crops. Economy Minister Akira Amari said last month that rice is "100 times" more important to Japan than it is to the US.

Mr Yamada used to run cattle and hog farms in his hometown in the southern Japanese prefecture of Nagasaki before becoming a lower-house lawmaker in 1993. He said his dream of expanding his farms to become one of the country's largest meat producers didn't come true because a US ban on soybean exports in 1973 sent livestock feed prices soaring, making his business unprofitable.