Agriculture poses a key challenge to the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation’s vision of free trade in the region, Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson said Nov. 10.
“The opening up of agricultural sectors of APEC economies remains a key challenge,” Emerson said in a statement. “Some APEC economies maintain very high levels of protection in agriculture.”
The 21 APEC economies were meeting in Japan’s port city of Yokohama. One of the key items on their agenda is finding a pathway to eventually creating a huge free trade zone among members who account for 53 per cent of global economic output and 44 per cent of world trade.
Underscoring the political difficulties in opening up agriculture to free trade, thousands of Japanese farmers rallied in Tokyo to demand their government steer clear of a separate and smaller U.S. free trade initiative.
Japan’s politically influential, but highly inefficient, rice farmers have long been protected from cheap imports, including from fellow APEC members the United States, Thailand and Vietnam.
Japan’s government has in the past cited food security and preserving an agrarian culture as reasons, but is now leaning towards opening up so that its companies can compete globally.
A U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement has been held up in part because of South Korean restrictions on beef, and opposition from its farmers.