2005 Rice Production Target Set at 8.51 Million Tons
On November 22, 2004 following a meeting of the Staple Foods Sub-Committee of the Council on Food, Agriculture and Rural Area Policies, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) decided the target production volume for rice to be produced in 2005 and the allocation of target production volume by prefecture. The overall target production volume has been set at 8.51 million tons, 60,000 tons less than in 2004, and target production volume has been reduced as compared with 2004 in 39 prefectures, including Hokkaido.
Government purchasing volume for rice produced in 2004 was set at 400,000 tons, and the volume of government rice to be sold off by the end of June 2005 was set at 100,000 tons.
Target production volume is decided on the basis of forecast demand for rice and the level of rice stocks. The forecast of demand for rice between July 2005 and June 2006 (published in July 2004) is 80,000 tons lower than the previous year's forecast at 8.51 million tons. In setting the target production volume, MAFF took into account the fact that government rice stocks at the end of June were about 600,000 tons, below the level considered appropriate, and that, with a national average crop index for 2004 of 98, short-term supply and demand are in equilibrium. MAFF appears to have stepped up the pressure for production adjustments, so as to encourage farmers to grow rice that will sell. In terms of land area, the figure of 600,000 tons corresponds to approximately 11,000 hectares.
The allocations of target production volume to prefectures were decided on the basis of forecasts of demand in each prefecture for rice produced in 2005, which were based on actual demand over the five years from 1999 to 2003. The calculations used data for three years out of the five, disregarding the two years in which fluctuation due to good or poor harvests was greatest. To ensure continuity of farming business management, some allowance was made for actual production relative to target production volume for rice produced in 2004. MAFF gave a relative weighting of 60% to forecast demand and 40% to actual production this year.
Government to Draw Up Brand Strategy for Agricultural Exports
On November 24, 2004, the government's Intellectual Property Policy Headquarters convened the first meeting of the "Japan Brand Working Group", a body responsible for drawing up a brand strategy for Japanese agricultural products and Japanese cuisine. The Working Group's mission is to promote the production of distinctive local agricultural products such as the Yubari melon, and develop export opportunities. The culinary experts on the Working Group told the meeting that interest in Japanese foods such as "Kobe beef" and traditional Japanese cuisine is growing overseas. At future meetings, the Working Group will discuss specific methods of promoting exports of agricultural products, ways of encouraging a reappraisal of traditional Japanese cuisine, boosting domestic consumption of foods in the form of Japanese cuisine, and promoting Japanese cuisine overseas. The Working Group is to publish its interim conclusions by the end of the month.
25 Billion Yen of Tax Sources Transferred from MAFF to Local Government
On November 26, 2004, the government and ruling parties approved an "overview" of the sanmi-ittai ["Trinity"] reforms of taxation and finance at central and local government levels. In conjunction with the reduction of MAFF subsidies, sources of tax revenue worth approximately 25 billion yen allocated to the funding of non-public works projects are to be transferred to local government.
Of the tax sources relating to non-public works projects, tax sources relating to forestry projects worth 5.6 billion are to be transferred in fiscal 2005. Of the grants in respect of the Cooperative Agricultural Extension Project handled by "agricultural extension centers", etc. and grants to agricultural committees, tax sources intended to cover personnel costs worth 19.4 billion yen are to be transferred in fiscal 2006. Grants in respect of activity costs are to be continued. To help ensure that projects are continued, grants in respect of activity costs will be reduced if local governments fail to implement projects on a scale corresponding to the amount of tax sources transferred.
Sources of tax revenue used to subsidize interest payments on loans made by JA agricultural cooperatives and fishing cooperatives to farmers and fishermen, to cover modernization costs, will also be transferred. As the system operates on the premise that if local governments do not subsidize interest payments, the central government will not either and the decision has effectively been left to local government, it was judged that transferring tax sources would have no negative impact.
Altogether, tax sources worth approximately 25 billion yen are to be transferred. Besides transferring tax sources, the reforms will bring 177 subsidized projects under the umbrella of 7 non-project specific grants, so as to give local governments greater freedom in the use of funds.
As to public works projects, central government will continue to fund large-scale projects and projects covering a wide geographical area with an eye to national land conservation and the fostering of "core" farmers. In future, central government will not provide subsidies for small-scale public works projects such as repairs, and will entrust their implementation to local government.
Keyword: Transfer of sources of tax revenue
The transfer of sources of tax revenue from central government to local government will ultimately involve the transfer of authority to levy taxes. However, for fiscal 2005, the transfer will take a "temporary" form under which authority to levy will not be transferred and amounts equivalent to the supposedly transferred tax revenue will be allocated to local government under the title of "special grants in lieu of anticipated transfer of tax sources".
Suspension of Shipment of Somatic Cell-Cloned Cattle to Continue to End of 2006
On December 3, 2004, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) announced that it had decided a policy of continuing to advise voluntary suspension of the shipment of "somatic cell-cloned cattle" and of calves born to such animals. The advised suspension is likely to continue at least until the end of 2006, as it will take around three years to collect sufficient data to confirm the safety of calves bred using the semen of somatic cell-cloned cattle. Once the data have been collected and after conferring with the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, MAFF will ask the Food Safety Commission to evaluate the safety of the animals.
Because somatic cell-cloned cattle are bred using somatic cells, without insemination, they have exactly the same genetic makeup as the animal from which they are cloned. In a report published in May 2003, MHLW took the position that the constituents of the meat and milk of somatic cell-cloned cattle were no different from that of ordinary cattle, and that it was difficult to envisage the existence of any special factor that might impair their safety as foods, but that caution should be exercised. However, it is likely that any meat or milk released onto the market would in fact come from cattle bred using sperm from somatic cell-cloned cattle and their offspring, and consumers have expressed concern over the safety of cattle of these generations.
MAFF has decided that, to convince consumers of their safety, it will be necessary to collect data on the effects on the children and grandchildren of somatic cell-cloned cattle, and be able to answer to such concerns (Livestock Production and Feed Division of the Agricultural Production Bureau Livestock Industry Department). The collection of data is to begin in earnest by the end of 2004, chiefly under the auspices of the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science. Tests to be conducted include feeding the meat of calves of somatic-cell cloned cattle to rats and analysis of the constituents of meat and milk.
Special Zones for Structural Reform to be Extended Nationwide
On December 17, the government's Headquarters for the Promotion of Special Zones for Structural Reform will convene a meeting of its Evaluation Committee to decide which types of special zone should be created nationwide. It now appears certain that the participation of ordinary joint stock companies in agriculture will be included in the scheme of special zones to be promoted nationwide. The meeting is also likely to decide matters relating to the Agricultural Land Law, including (i) a relaxation of the lower limit on the area of farmland that may be purchased and (ii) the inclusion of the operation of agricultural work experience programs and minshuku [bed & breakfast-type guesthouses] in the scope of agriculture-related businesses that may be undertaken by agricultural production corporations.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) has already said that, in its view, the participation of joint stock companies has presented no difficulties in the continuation of farming in the surrounding area, in the special zones created to date. Government policy is that special zones for structural reform should be created throughout Japan if no problems arise, and the decision to go ahead with the project will effectively be taken at the meeting of the Evaluation Committee on December 17.
Although permission for ordinary joint stock companies to rent farmland and the relaxation of the lower limit on the area of farmland that may be purchased are to apply in special zones throughout Japan, MAFF intends to restrict these measures to areas where there is a high risk that cultivation of land will be abandoned. MAFF also intends to include in the revision of the system measures to ensure harmonization with existing farming businesses in the surrounding area and prevent any negative impact on the fostering of "core" farmers.
The relaxation of the lower limit on the area of farmland that may be purchased will allow municipalities to set a lower limit as low as 10 ares. Until now, it has not been possible, in principle, to purchase less than 50 ares of farmland. The new measure will also be included in the measures to prevent abandonment of farmland cultivation under the new Basic Plan for Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas.
MAFF intends to present proposals for an amendment of the Agricultural Land Law to the ordinary session of the Diet in 2005, to allow ordinary joint stock companies to run agricultural businesses under a farmland rental system.
Plans to Set Food Self-Sufficiency Ratios for Prefectures and Municipalities
In conjunction with the setting of a target level for Japan's food self-sufficiency ratio, a measure that is to be considered in drafting the new Basic Plan for Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) plans, besides setting a national target, to put forward proposals to encourage initiatives aimed at raising food self-sufficiency ratios at a local level, including the setting of targets by prefectural and municipal governments. Vice Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Mamoru Ishihara revealed the plans at a regular press conference on December 13.
For the past six years, Japan's food self-sufficiency ratio has been 40%. It has not changed since the adoption of the latest Basic Plan in 2000.
The Vice Minister said it was vital to encourage local government authorities to pursue independent initiatives to help raise food self-sufficiency ratios and told reporters that getting local governments to set targets and promoting local consumption of locally produced food was one way to boost ratios.
MAFF set out this policy at a meeting of the Council on Food, Agriculture and Rural Area Policies Planning Committee on December 14.
APEC Economic Leaders Reaffirm Commitment to Exercise Leadership in Trade Liberalization
The 12th APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, held in the Chilean capital Santiago, closed on November 21 with the publication of a joint declaration. The declaration reaffirms the commitment to exercise leadership in the WTO (World Trade Organization) trade negotiations and also sets out a policy of speeding the negotiation of FTAs (free trade agreements). The key points of the declaration are as follows:
- The theme of the meeting was "One Community, Our Future".
- The leaders reaffirm their commitment to achieve sustainable and equitable growth and to enhance the standard of living of their people and reduce economic disparities by liberalizing and facilitating trade and investment, enhancing human security and promoting good governance and the building of a knowledge-based society.
Promoting development through the liberalization of trade and investment
- The leaders reaffirm the primacy of a multilateral trading system. They welcome the new momentum lent to the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) by the July Package adopted by the General Council of the WTO, and pledge to continue this momentum.
- They agree to work with a sense of urgency to achieve a balanced overall outcome that will meet the high ambitions set for these negotiations in the areas of agriculture, non-agricultural goods, services, and rules, while respecting the need for flexibility and taking into account the needs of developing countries.
- They agree to seek substantial results at the Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference and instruct their Ministers and officials to work in earnest towards this goal.
- They agree to contribute to negotiations on trade facilitation by sharing their considerable experience within APEC with the rest of the WTO and contributing to the DDA negotiations
- They agree that FTAs play an important role in accelerating liberalization in the region, thus contributing to the achievement of the Bogor Goals and the advancement of the WTO process. They welcome the APEC Best Practices for FTAs as providing a meaningful point of reference for APEC members negotiating FTAs, and commit to working for greater transparency in FTAs.
- They recognize that improved protection of intellectual property rights helps to promote investment and economic growth and welcome APEC's work based on the APEC Comprehensive Strategy on Intellectual Property Rights and encourage further progress.
Santiago Initiative for Expanded Trade in APEC
- The leaders have agreed to launch a Santiago Initiative for Expanded Trade in APEC, geared to the further liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment as a complement the achievement of free and open trade in the region.
- ABAC (APEC Business Advisory Council) has proposed studies for a "Trans-Pacific Business Agenda" and a "Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific". The leaders look forward to ABAC's continued participation as they implement the Santiago Initiative.
Good governance and the building of a knowledge-based society
- The leaders call up their officials to advance the creation of an "APEC Sustainable Development Framework" and report on progress by the time of the next meeting in 2005.
- They welcome the Ministers' report on progress made this year in strengthening APEC. They reaffirm the need to continue to make APEC more efficient and responsive to stakeholders.
Outline Japan-Philippines EPA Agreed; Japan-ASEAN EPA Talks to Start in April
On November 30, 2004, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met the leaders of the ASEAN in countries in Vientiane ,capital of Laos, for talks at which it was confirmed that negotiations with a view to the conclusion of an EPA (economic partnership agreement), comprising an FTA (free trade agreement), between Japan and the ASEAN countries would start in April 2005. This development will speed EPA talks with the ASEAN region as a whole, as well as the countries with which Japan is already negotiating.
The previous day, November 29, Mr. Koizumi had met Ms. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, President of the Republic of the Philippines for talks at which the two leaders agreed the outline of an EPA between Japan and the Philippines (outline results of negotiations on trade in agricultural, forestry and fishery products shown below). Officials from the two countries will now prepare a draft agreement, aiming for implementation by the end of 2006.
Outline Results of Negotiations on
Trade in Agricultural, Forestry and Fishery Products
1. Measures to be adopted by Japan
(1) Sensitive products to be excluded or renegotiated
State traded products (rice, wheat, barley, designated dairy products), beef, pork, raw sugar, starches, canned pineapple, fishery products under import quota, tuna & swordfish (bluefin tuna, bigeye tuna, etc.), plywood, etc.
Raw sugar: To be renegotiated four years from implementation of agreement
Molasses: Tariff quota (in quota rate to be 50% of tariff beyond limits of quota)
3rd year: 2,000 tons ® 4th year: 3,000 tons
Muscovado sugar (containing molasses):
Tariff quota (in quota rate to be 50% of tariff beyond limits of quota)
3rd year: 300 tons ® 4th year: 400 tons (in retail containers of 1 kg or less)
(3) Chicken meat
Chicken meat (excluding chicken thighs on the bone):
Tariff quota (in quota rate to be reduced from 11.9% to 8.5%)
1st year: 3,000 tons ® 5th year: 7,000 tons
@@@@@ Pineapples (fresh): Tariff quota for pineapples of small weight (tariff up to quota to be 0%)
1st year: 1,000 tons ® 5th year: 1,800 tons
@@@@@ Smaller varieties: Tariffs to be abolished 10 years from implementation of agreement
@@@@@ Other varieties:
@@@@@@@@@@@Winter tariff: 20% ® 18% (over a period of 10 years)
@@@@@@@@@@@Summer tariff: 10% ® 8% (over a period of 10 years)
(6) Fishery products
@@@@@ Yellowfin tuna, skipjack tuna:
2. Measures to be adopted by the Philippines
Sensitive items among Japanese exports (grapes, apples, Asian pear, etc.): Tariffs to be abolished with immediate effect
MAFF BSE Survey in US Suggests Verification of Cattle Age is Likely to be Limited
On December 7, 2004, in conjunction with the prospective lifting of the ban on imports of beef, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) published the results of a survey, carried out in the United States and Canada, on methods of verification of the age of cattle based on birth registration. The survey report suggests that, as compared with Canada, where an individual ID system for cattle has been introduced, the number of cattle whose age can be verified is likely to be rather limited in the United States, where the creation of age verification systems did not begin until later. The report also identifies the problem that, in both countries, accuracy of verification varies between farms.
Officials of MAFF, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and other ministries concerned carried out inspections at slaughterhouses and beef cattle breeding farms in the states of Alberta (Canada) and Kansas (United States), between November 28 and December 5, 2004. At slaughterhouses in both countries, differences were observed in the parts of the carcass designated as SRM (specified risk material) and the methods used to remove SRM, from the parts and methods designated and used in Japan. Slaughterhouse technicians expressed a willingness to remove SRM according to the standards as used in Japan. MAFF believes "the situation will not present any particularly severe problems" (Food Safety and Consumer Affairs Bureau, Animal Health and Animal Products Safety Division).
Biodegradable Plastic Tableware to be Tested at Aichi Expo
Approximately 20 million pieces of biodegradable plastic tableware made from maize and other vegetable raw materials, that will return to dust, are to be used at The 2005 World Exposition, Aichi, Japan (EXPO 2005 Aichi Japan), which opens in March 2005. The plan is that plates, cups, spoons, and other tableware used in restaurants on site will afterwards be composted, along with kitchen refuse, for use by vegetable farmers. The experiment is a government model project and has been planned by a team led by the Japan Bioindustry Association (JBA; Chuo-ku, Tokyo). It is apparently the world's largest validation experiment geared to commercialization.
Two types of tableware are to be used at the Expo — simple disposable tableware and returnable tableware that will be reused. Approximately 20 million pieces of disposable tableware, of approximately 20 different types (cups, straws, lunch boxes, etc.) will be made ready, largely for use by fast food shops. It will be collected along with kitchen refuse and put through a fermentation and decomposition process using microorganisms, at a composting facility in Aichi Prefecture, and will be fully composted in the space of six months. The returnable tableware, of which there will be approximately 100,000 pieces, includes plates, bowls and beer glasses, and will be used repeatedly by restaurants. Any broken items will be melted down and reused to make refuse sacks, trays, etc.
Pollen Levels in Spring 2005 Set to be 30 Times Higher than in 2004
Pollen Levels in Spring 2005 Set to be 30 Times Higher than in 2004
Hay fever sufferers will have a hard time this coming spring. Research by Mr. Murayama, a senior expert at the Japan Meteorological Business Support Center, suggests that levels of Japanese cedar and Japanese cypress pollen that will be released in spring 2005 are likely to be 1.5-2 times higher, on a nationwide basis, than in the average year. They are also set to be 10-30 times higher than in spring 2004, when pollen levels were particularly low, and will be comparable to those of spring 1995, the highest since 1965, when records began. According to Mr. Murayama, pollen levels are higher in springs following a hot summer with little rainfall and, if the summer before that has been a cold one, the number of male flower buds rises sharply.
It has already been observed that, in the wake of the cool summer of 2003 and the hot summer of 2004, Japanese cedar and Japanese cypress trees are bearing extremely large numbers of flower buds.
A Short-Leaved Welsh Onion for the Age of "Mini" Vegetables
The development of labor-saving production technology for short-leaved Welsh onions, on which the Toyama Vegetable and Ornamental Crops Experiment Station has been working since FY 2002, is nearing completion. Reducing the length of the soft white section to approximately 20 cm and the overall length to 40 cm or less will not only solve the problem of Welsh onions not fitting in supermarket baskets or refrigerators, but is expected to save labor and make for lighter work in cultivation and extend the shipping period, among other benefits. Given the diversification of consumption patterns, the mini vegetable has the potential to be a hit with consumers, and is attracting widespread interest as a differentiated product.
For consumers, the merit of the short-leaved Welsh onion is that it is easy to buy and easy to handle. Producers will be able to reduce the number of times they have to build up the ridges from five times to twice, and as the number of leaves at the time of shipment has been increased from three to five or six, they will be able to save on peeling work.
The height of ridges can be halved, and the interval between ridges reduced by 30 cm, so that the density of planting can be increased. The short-leaved Welsh onions also grow quickly and can be shipped in July and August and in December-February, when it has been difficult to ship single-stem Welsh onions and can be shipped in relay with multiple-stem onions.
A spokesman for the Experiment Station said, "We now have a shortlist of five promising varieties. This year, which is the last of our program, we hope to narrow the selection down to two varieties that we will register.
Decoding of Rice Genome Completed
The International Rice Genome Sequencing Project (IRGSP), an international team of scientists from ten countries and regions around the world, including Japan, has completed the decoding of the entire genome (genetic code) of rice. The results of the project were communicated to Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Yoshinobu Shimamura on December 13, 2004. On receiving the report, Mr. Shimamura said, "This is an epoch-making achievement that will be welcomed throughout the world for the contribution it will make to resolving the world food problem."
Variety improvement will, in future, be far more efficient as it will be easier to seek out important genes such as those that determine yield and flavor. The work can be expected to find applications to wheat and maize, and opens up the possibility of improving the global food situation. Rice is the first crop of which the entire genome has been decoded.
The international team's work on decoding the rice genome began in 1998, using the "Nihonbare" variety of Japonica rice. The genetic information is expressed by different sequences of four chemicals (base sequences) in the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) contained in cell nuclei. Rice has approximately 390 million base pairs.
In December 2002, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced to the world that the bulk of the work of decoding the base sequences had been completed. The team has continued its work, concentrating on the 390 million pairs of base sequences that can be decoded with existing technology. Some 55% of these have been decoded by Japanese scientists.
The decoded base sequences will be published. The information they contain will stimulate an intensification of international competition in genetic research and variety development. Japanese scientists, too, will aim to lead the way in the development of superior varieties of rice, within the next five years, that will ensure that anyone, anywhere in the world will have plenty of tasty rice to eat.
In-store Labelling of Domestic Beef to Give Access to Production History Begins
The Beef Traceability Law applies to the distribution process from market onwards as of December 1, 2004. To help ensure the safety of domestically produced beef and give peace of mind, the Law requires slaughterhouses, distributors and specialist restaurants to display the individual ID numbers of the animals whose meat they handle and to keep records of transactions.
In December 2002, the first stage of implementation of the Law required producers and slaughterhouses to fit ear tags to cattle and declare details of the birth and slaughter of animals. The imposition of the labeling requirements is the second stage of implementation. Supermarkets and yakiniku [Korean-style barbecue] restaurants, among others, will be required to display the individual ID numbers of the cattle whose meat they handle on price tags, at the entrance to the store or restaurant, etc.
Consumers can view information such as an animal's breed and where it was born, bred and slaughtered by accessing the website of the National Livestock Breeding Center and entering its ID number.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and
Fisheries has established arrangements
verify that ID numbers are being properly
disclosed by conducting DNA tests of
sold in retail stores and samples of
taken from carcasses at meat markets.
The Insecurity of Asia's Rice Supply is a Severe Problem
The amount of rice concerned in the debate as to whether or not Japan should give aid to North Korea is 125,000 tons. Every day, around the world, a quantity of rice stocks close to this figure disappears. In simple terms, this is because the amount of rice the world produces is failing to keep pace with the amount of rice it consumes. It is estimated that world rice stocks at the end of May 2004 totaled 71.44 million tons (polished rice equivalent), around 40 million tons or 35% less than in May 2003. The figures were revealed in the Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on November 12, 2004. They signify that over the past year, the world's rice stocks have been falling by more than 100,000 tons a day.
Owing to the fact that the world has been tapping into its rice stocks for four years in succession, the international price of rice has risen by 20% over the past year. As the governments of Asian countries have started to give priority to boosting production, experts believe that rice stocks are unlikely to continue to fall unchecked. However, it is certain that the supply of rice has become unstable and, given the succession of droughts around the world and the trend of global warming, it is important that we take the problem of falling rice stocks more seriously.
Rice is a key cereal crop on which half of the world's population relies as a staple food. One important difference from maize, wheat or soybeans is the fact that only around 6% of all rice produced is traded. Although rice commercially traded, the tendency to self-sufficiency on a national basis is very strong and when the harvest is poor, prices tend to rise sharply. The USDA describes the international rice market as "thin, volatile and risky". Moreover, the relationship of supply and demand is complicated by the considerable differences in flavor between Indica, Japonica and other varieties of rice.
Another difference is that 90% of all rice production and consumption is concentrated in Asia. In some Asian countries, annual rice consumption is more than 200 kg per capita. This is three times the level of consumption in Japan and means that people in those countries get most of their nutrition from rice. The instability of the rice supply-demand situation could be seen as a yellow light for food security in Asia.
One economist at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines observes that stronger economies would be able to withstand a rise in the international price of rice but poor countries that import rice would surely be dealt a severe blow. Some 800 million people around the world are suffering from malnutrition. It may be easy to assume that Asia, whose economic development has been so spectacular, has nothing to fear from malnutrition, yet 65% of those suffering from malnutrition live in Asia. These people took a direct hit from last year's rise in the price of rice.
Japan, where per capita consumption of rice is falling, has been pursuing "production adjustments" for more than 30 years. Except in years when the harvest is affected by severe cold damage, rice has become a food that can be bought cheaply, at any time and any place. In terms of food security, the future of the rice supply cannot be considered as an issue that does not concern Japan.
The year 2004 has been designated International Year of Rice, with the theme "Rice is Life". Under the leadership of the United Nations, special events and research conferences relating to rice are taking place around the world. In the face of the ongoing decline of rice stocks, we should reflect once more on the seriousness of this theme.
(from an editorial in the November October24, 2004 issue of the Nihon Nogyo Shimbun)