(Dec. 26) Japan should modernize and reform agriculture and improve market access for imports, World Trade Organization members said.

Reforms in Japan are necessary to spark growth in the world economy and help global momentum toward expanded trade, according to a news release from the WTO.

A WTO study released in November coincided with a review of Japan’s trade policies and practices.

Japan’s agricultural sector remains among the most protected of its industries, the WTO study said.

There have been recent attempts to bolster agriculture in Japan.

PRIORITY PLAN

In 2001, the government of Japan announced a priority plan for a stable food supply and aesthetic land development, the WTO report noted.

Since March 2001, certain stock companies have been allowed to participate in farming, but those companies must be formed by farmers.

Japan’s total transfers of subsidies to agriculture actually exceed the sector’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product, the WTO report said, with total transfers to agriculture totaling 1.4% of GDP in 2000, compared with the sector’s 1.1% share of GDP.

Japan produces only 40% of the food it needs, and it remains the largest importer of food. Japan’s goal is to meet 45% of its food needs by 2010.

In addition to the WTO report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service released a separate study in November analyzing Japan’s food production goals.

WHOLESALE VALUE

The ERS report said the wholesale value of the Japanese vegetable market is $23 billion.

Japan’s vegetable f.o.b.s are well above those in neighboring countries and about three to four times higher than the U.S.

Phytosanitary rules have a major impact on the market, restricting import volume and boosting domestic prices. Tariffs are not particularly high on many produce commodities, although Japan has employed voluntary export restraint agreements to hold back volume of imported product.

Japan’s retail prices for comparable vegetables ranged from 1.7-3.2 times more than in the U.S., the ERS report said.

The WTO report can be found at www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp206_e.htm.

The USDA ERS report is at www.ers.usda.gov/publications/vgs/oct02/vgs293-01/.