Posts Tagged ‘TPP’

Rice is nice when the price is right

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Early birds: Harvesting rice crop in northern Chiba prefecture in September

Early birds: Harvesting rice crop in northern Chiba Prefecture in September

The main rallying cry of those opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotations, such as JA (National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations), is that Japan can no long feed itself with the food it produces, since its self-sufficiency rate is a meager 39 percent. But as attorney Colin P.A. Jones recently pointed out in his Japan Times “Law of the Land” column, this figure is misleading since it measures food consumed in calories.

In terms of production, Japan’s self-sufficiency rate is 65 percent. Moreover, in terms of total volume of food produced, Japan is fifth in the world. The point is, Japan produces plenty of food for itself, and it also imports lots of food. It is a wealthy country by any measure. However, its agricultural sector is lopsided in that it doesn’t produce food in a way that matches demand.

Rice is the culprit. Even without American threatening their livelihood with shiploads at the ready of cheap short-grained rice, farmers in Japan are already seeing prices drop precipitously. There is just too much rice being produced, despite the fact that the government still pays farmers not to produce so much.

According to Tokyo Shimbun the problem started in 2011 after the Great East Japan Earthquake destroyed much of the crop in the Tohoku region, a major rice-producing region. Consequently, rice stocks became low and the price skyrocketed. This situation lasted through the 2012 harvest. As a result, restaurants and prepared food makers cut back on the amount of rice they used. But by the middle of 2013, stocks of rice had increased to the point of a surplus, and a bumper crop was produced in the fall. But demand didn’t follow suit and the surplus grew considerably. Again, the situation remained unchanged and the price has been dropping steadily since then to the point where it’s lower than it was before the earthquake.

CONTINUE READING about domestic vs. foreign rice →

Auto sales driven by gas mileage

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Fit to be drived

Fit to be drived

Last week Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that Japan would participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks, a prospect that worries American car makers since the trade agreement could remove any remaining tariffs from Japanese cars sold in the U.S., thus making them cheaper and even more attractive to American consumers. Apparently, carmakers in the U.S. don’t think the agreement will sufficiently remove what they deem barriers to American car sales in Japan. The fact that these barriers, which include, in the words of Reuters, “discriminatory taxes, onerous and costly certification procedures for foreign cars and [an] unwillingness by Japanese auto dealers to sell foreign cars,” have not prevented certain European automakers from doing well in Japan may, in fact, indicate that the problem is American products rather than Japanese protectionism. For instance, the U.S. claims that Japan’s preferential tax treatment for kei (light) cars — smaller automobiles whose engine displacement is 660cc — is a trade barrier, but since America doesn’t make kei cars it’s difficult to understand what it’s a barrier to. Kei cars account for about 30 percent of the Japanese car market, which means people like them, and the main reason they like them is their superior gas mileage.

It’s also the main reason for the popularity of hybrids. On March 3, the land ministry announced its most recent findings for the best gas mileage among cars sold in Japan. Toyota’s hybrid Aqua came out in first place with 35.4 km per liter (in JC08 mode). In second place was the first hybrid car sold in Japan, Toyota’s Prius with 32.6km/l. In third place was Toyota’s high-end hybrid Lexus at 30.4km/l, and fourth was Honda’s hybrid Insight. The highest non-hybrid on the list was the Mitsubishi Mirage, which gets 27.2km/l.

Aqua is also the best-selling model in Japan right now. In February, 24,526 Aquas were sold nationwide, with Prius in second place with 23,473. After that, it was Nissan’s Note with 16,497 followed by Honda’s Fit. However, overall kei cars still outsell regular cars and hybrids in terms of units, probably because in addition to good gas mileage they cost less to purchase. Suzuki’s Alto and Mazda’s Carol tied for first among kei cars in terms of fuel efficiency with 30.2km/l. American carmakers will probably not be happy to learn that the government has required all cars sold in Japan to meet stricter efficiency standards by 2015 in accordance with the revised Energy Conservation Law. As it stands, however, a fair number of domestic models already meet these standards.

Of course, the gas mileage figures offered by the government and the automakers themselves should be used purely for comparative purposes. One would probably have to drive straight on an expressway on perfectly balanced tires going downhill with the wind at one’s back to achieve 35km/l in an Aqua, but last week we decided to try one out for a day trip to Gunma. We picked up the car in Iwatsuki, Saitama Prefecture, at a branch of Toyota Rental & Leasing. The fee was ¥7,000 for the day, including the use of a car navigation system, plus ¥1,000 for insurance.

We drove about 250 km and ended up spending ¥1,372 for gasoline, which worked out to about 9 liters or a little less than 25km/l. That’s much less than the advertised rate, but better than we expected considering that more than a third of the drive was spent on surface roads rather than expressways. But we didn’t use the air conditioner, either. And when we checked several websites dedicated to jissai nenpi, or fuel efficiency under real driving conditions, the average gas mileage for the Aqua is around 21.5km/l.

For comparison’s sake, in January we rented Nissan’s compact (but not kei) March from Nikoniko rentals for ¥4,000 a day with insurance included but no car navigation system. We drove 140 km, none on expressways, and ended up using 8.37 liters, which means gas mileage was 17.9km/l (advertised: 24; real: 20). The advantage of the hybrid is obvious, and will likely become more so when Honda comes out with a new version of its hybrid Fit in August. The company is already boasting that gas mileage will exceed 36, thus topping Aqua. And it will be cheaper, too.

How much money do rice farmers need to make from farming?

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Bags of rice for sale in a JA retail outlet

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which Japan endeavors to join, continues to be controversial, though most people in Japan only have knowledge about the broadest arguments. If Japan joins TPP, it’s the end of Japanese agriculture; if it doesn’t, Japan will not have access to one of the biggest markets in the world.

Several recent articles in the Asahi Shimbun at least give some idea of what rice farmers stand to lose or gain from the agreement. Two farmers are profiled, one in Fukui Prefecture, the other in Aomori prefecture. The Fukui farmer works a one-hectare paddy that he inherited from his father about 15 years ago. The paddy yields about 96 hyo (1 hyo = 60 kg) a year and ¥1.47 million in revenues, which breaks down to ¥1.1 in sales and the rest in government subsidies. When the Democratic Party of Japan became the ruling party, it threw out the old Liberal Democratic Party subsidy system, which basically discouraged farmers from growing rice. The DPJ subsidy, called kobetsu shotoku hosho (individual income compensation), pays them to grow by making up for any losses they might incur due to low market prices.

The Fukui farmer’s annual expenses for cultivating his paddy run to about ¥1.77 million, which includes ¥520,000 for outside labor. It’s implied that the paddy owner himself does very little actual farming. On his tax return he also lists in the loss column ¥600,000 in depreciation for his farm equipment. All in all, the farm in 2010 lost ¥300,000. However, he says it doesn’t really bother him. His main job is working for an electrical parts maker, which pays him a salary of ¥5.3 million. His wife also works, earning ¥2.8 million.

Continue reading about the cost of growing rice →

Consumers have last word on fate of rice farming

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Farmers are up in arms about the possibility that the government will participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, which would remove import tariffs on products from member countries. In particular, rice farmers say that allowing cheaper foreign rice into Japan would wipe them out, which is probably true for most of them.

The price is rice: 2010 Koshihikari at ¥58 per bowl

Some ambitious high-grade rice producers are determined to meet the challenge not only in Japan, but overseas, as well. The rice collective Beisist Shonan is already selling its expensive brand in Taiwan and Europe. One company in Kobe called Shinmei has a plan to sell 1,200 tons of 2010 rice overseas, which is 870 more tons than they sold of 2009 rice. The company projects that it will export 10,000 tons by 2018. But those companies represent a small portion of rice farmers, the vast majority of whom are part-timers whose methods aren’t very efficient.

At present, the farm sector contributes about ¥10 trillion to Japan’s economy every year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Foresty and Fisheries, which estimates that the sector will lose about ¥4.1 trillion if Japan joins TPP. In addition, Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate will drop from 40 percent to 14 percent. About 10 percent of the rice produced in Japan is high-grade (Niigata Koshihikari, organic brands, etc.) and is thus considered invulnerable to foreign imports. Nevertheless, the ministry estimates the price will drop from the current average of ¥280 per kg to ¥177 retail. The remaining 90 percent of Japanese rice, which will compete directly with foreign brands, costs now about ¥247 per kg.

Continue reading about expected effects of the TPP →

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