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Japan Foreign Minister Calls for Lower Rice Tariff, Freer Trade

Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said Japan’s 778 percent tariff on rice imports is holding back its agriculture sector and hampering his government’s efforts to revitalize trade and economic growth.

“With this sort of protectionism going on, agriculture in Japan will only taper off,” Maehara said today.

“We will have to engage in a bolder form of agriculture and more liberal trade structure and use that as a trigger to rejuvenate” the Japanese economy, Maehara said. He spoke through a translator to an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies research group in Washington, ahead of talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Maehara called the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks with nine Asia-Pacific countries “the most concrete pathway visible” for Japan to help make a reality a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, a goal agreed to at last year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ summit.

Maehara acknowledged that for Japan to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, his country first “has to carry out reforms including agriculture, which will entail difficulties” -- a reference to strong opposition at home from Japanese farmers.

“However, the government of Japan has decided to launch consultations with the countries involved,” he said, because “the revitalization of agriculture and further opening up of Japan are two objectives that can go hand in hand.”

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