Press Conference by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Friday, March 15, 2013
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We will now begin the press conference by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. We will begin with a statement from the Prime Minister. Mr. Prime Minister, your opening statement, please.
Opening Statement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Today, I have decided to take part in the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement. I will notify this intention to the TPP countries.
I have paid heed to many and various opinions about this issue, which has split public opinion. I have reached the decision today after carefully examining those opinions. I wish to explain to all the people of Japan how I have come to the decision to participate.
The Pacific Ocean, the largest ocean which covers one third of the earth's surface, is now becoming an inland sea of a gigantic economic zone. Eleven countries surrounding the Pacific Ocean are participating in the TPP negotiations. What the TPP is aiming for is to make the Pacific Ocean a sea on which goods, services and investment freely go across. A large economic zone which accounts for one-third of the world economy is emerging.
In 1949, when Japan was still under occupation, the first post-war Trade White Paper argued, amidst burnt-out ruins: "Economic independence cannot even be an aspiration without promotion of international trade." It was in this determination that our country chose the path to achieve prosperity under the free trade system. In 1955, Japan joined GATT, which promoted free trade around the world, as the first Asian country to do so. Expanding its exports, the Japanese economy achieved an astounding twenty-fold growth in twenty years. In 1968, Japan became the second largest economic power in the world after the United States.
And now, Japan is facing big challenges. A decreasing birth rate and aging population. Prolonged deflation. It looks as if our country has become inward-looking before we knew it. In the meantime, other countries in the world have dynamically changed their direction towards open economies aiming to incorporate overseas growth. The United States and Europe have started to move toward negotiations for an economic partnership agreement between them. The Republic of Korea has also concluded free trade agreements with the United States and the EU, and emerging powers in Asia are turning themselves into open economies one after another. If Japan alone should become inward-looking, we would have no chance of growth. Companies would not invest in Japan then. Talent would not be attracted either. The TPP is a framework which promises "prosperity in the future" in the Asia-Pacific.
With regard to the economic impact of elimination of tariffs, we made an estimate as a basis for the Government to be united, instead of unorganized efforts by each ministry. Even if we eliminate all tariffs, our economy is expected to gain from the TPP's positive influence as a whole.
In this estimate, we expect a decrease in production of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. However, this is based on an extremely simplified assumption in which all tariffs are eliminated immediately and no domestic measures are provided. In fact, it is a matter of course that we will try to make every effort to minimize its negative impact, such as special considerations for our sensitive items in the negotiations to come. There would also be its positive effects other than those in this estimate. We need to further review other effects that come from being connected to the economic zone that accounts for one third of the world's economy. Minister Amari, who will be in charge of overall coordination of the TPP issue, will explain the details later.
The significance of the TPP is not limited to the economic impact on our country. Japan is creating a new economic zone with our ally, the United States. Other countries who share the universal values of freedom, democracy, basic human rights, and the rule of law are joining. I firmly believe that creating new rules in the Asia-Pacific region with these countries is not only in Japan's national interests, but also certain to bring prosperity to the world. Furthermore, I have no doubt that deepening economic interdependence with these countries in a common economic order will significantly contribute to the security of our country and also to the stability of the Asia-Pacific region. The new economic order which will be created with the two major economic powers, Japan and the United States, would not remain the "TPP only" rules. It should serve as a basis for rule-making beyond the TPP, in Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and in the larger initiative of Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).
Now is our last chance. Losing this opportunity would simply leave Japan out from the rule-making in the world. Future historians will no doubt see that "the TPP was the opening of the Asia-Pacific Century." Japan has to be at the heart of the Asia Pacific Century. I believe that participation in the negotiations for the TPP will be a provident masterstroke.
Unfortunately, it has already been two years since the TPP negotiations started. It is an undeniable fact that it would be difficult for Japan, the latecomer, to overturn the rules which have already been agreed. We do not have much time left. This is precisely why I came to think that we have to join the negotiations as soon as possible. Japan is the world's third largest economy. I firmly believe that we can lead efforts to make new rules as an important player once we join the negotiations.
On the other hand, it is only natural that there are people with various concerns. This is precisely why we, the Liberal Democratic Party, pledged to the Japanese people over the course of the election campaign that we oppose participation in the TPP negotiations as long as the requirement for participation is that the Japanese Government makes a prior commitment to eliminate tariffs with no sanctuary. The LDP also laid out five other criteria, such as maintaining the universal healthcare insurance system. We will keep our promise with the people of Japan. This is why I had a meeting with President Obama, from which I confirmed that a prior commitment to eliminate tariffs with no sanctuary is not a requirement for participating in the TPP negotiations. I am determined to firmly secure the other five criteria in the negotiations. Making the most of our negotiating power, we will secure what we should secure and gain what we should gain. We will pursue the best path to suit our national interests.
What is the most important national interests? We are proud of our national character. We have breathtakingly beautiful rural scenes. We have a tradition of waking up early in the morning, working hard to cultivate the fields, sharing water and praying for a huge harvest for all. We have an agrarian culture; it is based on self-help and self-reliance and yet villagers will all help each other if someone falls ill. We have a social security system based on the world-class universal health care insurance system which takes root in this culture. I will firmly secure these: the national character.
The average age of the primary farming population is now sixty-six. It grew older by ten years during the last twenty years. I regret that our agriculture today is not winning the hearts of the young. Abandoned farming fields approximately doubled over the last twenty years. Now they are almost as large as the entirety of Saitama prefecture. If we leave it as it is, we will not be able to secure our farm villages and beautiful home. This is the reality already happening in front of us now; we have not participated in the TPP yet, though. We have to bring back strong and affluent agriculture and farm villages where the young will have a dream in the future.
Japan has agricultural products which are carefully grown in the four seasons. As the world becomes richer, I have no doubt that delicious and safe Japanese agricultural products will become increasingly popular. Hita nashi pears, a specialty of Oita prefecture, is exported to Taiwan despite its price, which is five times as high as local products. In Hokkaido, there is an example of a particular type of rice which takes advantage of its climate as the snowy country. This type of rice expanded its exports by seven times over five years. Increasing its competitiveness and expanding exports by an aggressive agricultural policy, we will make agriculture a growing industry. For that purpose, the TPP is not a crisis; it is a big chance.
At the same time, it is only fair to further improve measures for the areas with poor conditions and disadvantages such as hilly and mountainous areas. It is also indispensable to pay attention to the reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake. From farmers, I have heard many worrying voices, such as "Would Japan's agriculture be destroyed once it joins the TPP?" I will go into the negotiation fully keeping your worries and concerns in my mind. I promise you here to secure Japan's agriculture and food with every effort.
Some people point out that Japan may lose its tariff autonomy. However, it is not that Japan will have to reduce its tariffs unilaterally; rather all the parties to the TPP will reduce and eliminate their tariffs based on the negotiation results. We also hear a variety of other concerns. We will address such concerns faithfully through negotiations. I promise to all the people of Japan that the Government will provide information conscientiously as the negotiation proceeds to convince you.
Now, is it not the idleness out of excessive fear that we should really fear? Is it not the very hesitation to move forward? Let us move forward together, so that we can leave to our children and our children's children a strong Japan in which people can feel hopeful about the future.
What I have decided today is just the participation in the negotiations. We have only come to the doorstep. From now on, the negotiations with our national interests at stake will start. This is my promise. I will firmly defend Japan's sovereignty and, through the negotiations, achieve the best way based on our national interests.
That is all from me.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We will now move on to the Q&A session. When you are called on, please first state your name and affiliation before asking your question. Mr. Takahashi, please.
REPORTER: I am Takahashi with Kyodo News. Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for taking my question.
Mr. Prime Minister, you announced your intention to participate in the TPP negotiations, and stated your firm determination to secure national interests. The LDP has just made a request yesterday to give the utmost priority to secure the five sensitive items of rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy, and sugar as well as the universal health insurance system as sanctuaries. Are you committed to defending this sanctuary up to the end? And if you cannot defend it, are you of the view that you may leave the negotiations? This is the first question.
Another question is that you referred to the details of the collective government estimate, details of which will be announced by Minister Amari [who is in charge of the TPP issue]. Some say that the loss in agriculture will amount to 3 trillion yen. Strong opposition from farmers' groups may well be expected. What is your take on the implications for the House of Councillors election this summer?
I wish to also hear about the current situation regarding your consideration of support measures for agriculture.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: Your first question was on whether or not we may withdraw from the negotiations. We will secure our national interests, which will be at the heart of our dealings in the negotiations. This is why we participate. As such, it would run counter to our national interests to comment on the possibility of withdrawal, which is why it would be inappropriate in my view. Yesterday, we received the resolution from the LDP on the issues to be secured. We will keep these steadfastly in mind, and achieve results through tough negotiation.
On the election, I made the decision to participate in the negotiations today, judging that it really has to be now, regardless of the election. Having said that, we have a long-running trust with rural communities and farmers. We will build on this trust, and we hope to maintain this trust and win further trust by conscientiously explaining the case.
As for the damage, Minister Amari will explain the estimate later. However, this is made on the assumption of eliminating all tariffs and taking no measures. Such assumption will never actually occur. This is what I wish to clearly state. As I said earlier, what is required of us now is to turn a crisis into a chance. At the same time, there is the multifunctionality of agriculture. Therefore, we have to keep in mind this multifunctionality and secure what we have to secure by various policy measures.
On the measures - I decided to participate in the negotiations today. We will negotiate properly, and also properly discuss the measures and the "menu" for strong agriculture, aggressive agriculture and securing multifunctionality.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: I'll take the next question now. Mr. Furuta, please go ahead.
REPORTER: I am Furuta with the Tokyo Shimbun and Chunichi Shimbun. Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for taking my question.
You mentioned that you promised to conscientiously provide the people with information regarding the negotiation process. How will you publicize the negotiation process and participation in the negotiations? Will you hold a press conference? Will the Government be issuing reports? Or what? Please give us your ideas on how you will be publicizing these.
Also, you mentioned that it is not possible to overturn what has already been agreed by the 11 countries already in negotiations, as a matter of fact. We understand that - so far as we understand, Canada and Mexico, when they joined the negotiations had to accept the disadvantage that they would not be able to overturn what had been agreed and other such disadvantages, such as that they would not be allowed to call off negotiations. Mr. Prime Minister, are you of the view that participation is more important and that you will have to accept the disadvantages? How will the Government respond when such conditions are presented?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: With regard to providing information on the TPP, we have done as much as we can. For example, we issued the Joint Statement by the United States and Japan and I explained it the Press Conference. We have also explained the Government's basic stances and the progress of negotiations at party meetings, both the ruling coalition and the opposition, from time to time. Because of the nature of negotiations, we have counterparts, and accordingly there are things we can say and things we cannot. However, once we participate in the negotiations, we believe that we can gain access to information more easily. What can be publicized will be properly made available to the people of Japan.
And as for the negotiations, I am fully aware that it would be difficult for Japan as the latecomer to overturn the rules which had already been agreed by the TPP countries. However, not much negotiation has taken place on tariffs, for example, amongst other issues, and there are many issues which are not decided yet. If we do not participate at this timing, I will virtually have to abandon the notion of the TPP, because we will not be able to participate in the negotiations at all. If we are completely left aside from rule-making, then it would not be in our national interests to participate in the TPP. Furthermore, we will have to give up on the new systems that would build on the TPP, such as RCEP and FTAAP. We must recognize that we are now at such a critical juncture.
Having said that, we have not received the sort of letter which Mexico and Canada are said to have received and cannot comment on how we would think about that. What I can say is that we wish to participate in the negotiations at the earliest possible date and secure our national interests through tough negotiations. No matter how you look at it, Japan is the third largest economic power in the world. Its presence can only be big. We hope to make the best out of it.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: I'll take the next question now. Ms. Sekiguchi, please.
REPORTER: I am Sekiguchi, with Dow Johns.
I have an impression that the treatment of tariffs on agricultural products is seen as the biggest issue in the debate on the participation to the TPP negotiations. Do the benefits that consumers would receive through tariff reduction have lower priority than this? While big companies are announcing pay raises, those who are less affected by buoyancy in the market, such as small and medium-sized companies and pensioners, may feel worse off. What is your perception of the gap between the consumer who will look forward to cheaper foreign rice, meat and dairy products on the one hand and the agricultural "sanctuary"?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: First of all, elimination of tariffs on many products will lead to lower prices, which will no doubt be in the interest of consumers. This will lead to the increased purchasing power which will positively contribute to the GDP. Therefore, the consumers' benefits are taken into account in the Government's estimate.
In addition, agriculture has multifunctionality, such as storing water, protecting the region, preserving the environment and absorbing carbon dioxide. People who live in urban areas also benefit from these functions. If we think about this multifunctionality, agriculture cannot be another industry where a workforce is simply unnecessary. This multifunctionality is intertwined with the very culture of Japan, and it is obvious to me that I should steadfastly secure it.
There was also the issue of the Government's economic, fiscal and monetary policies. If we do not take the policies we are currently pursuing, the income of people will decline year by year. As pensions are indexed to prices, deflation means less pension income. If stock prices go down, this will mean investment losses for pension accounts. If the stock price of JT goes down, for example, this will mean less profit on sale which can be used for assistance to the areas affected by the earthquake disaster.
Think about it. If we didn't do it now, there would be far more losses. Jobs were swept away under an excessively appreciated yen. We are now in a stage instead, to invigorate the economy, create jobs, and increase income by strengthening the Japanese economy. And what is important is to enable more people to benefit from this.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: This will be the last question, as we are running out of time. Mr. Sasaki, please.
REPORTER: I am Sasaki of Jiji Press.
In the run-up to the announcement of participation to the TPP negotiations, the Government had prior consultations with the United States. I suppose there has been some progress, in particular the acceptance of gradual tariff reduction on US automobiles. Will there be no more prior consultations, while it may not be "prior" anymore? I suppose there will be, and, if so, given the so-called "90 days" rule, what will be the Government's position concerning the remaining issues such automobiles and insurance, towards the engagement in rule-making at the negotiation meetings to be held from this summer onwards?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: At the Japan-US summit meeting, we have agreed to continue bilateral consultations, and consequently we are now having consultations. We will make further efforts so that the US's consent on Japan's participation in the TPP negotiations can be obtained promptly.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: With that, I would like to bring this press conference to a close. Thank you all very much.