The U.S. and some other countries involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement negotiations have tried to paint a rosy picture, but Japan’s agricultural protectionism, especially of its rice farmers, is still a big hurdle.

As noted by Hiroko Tabuchi in a New York Times article, Japan has had a 778 percent tariff on rice, and the countries leadership isn’t ready to make rice farmers operate in a free market even though production is inefficient and quality of rice is “mediocre” at best. The decades old high tariff is a way of life and changing it would basically be seen as unpatriotic.

There are a few calls for revision of the Japanese rice farming system, but minor changes, such as a new grower coming into the rice growing region using new production methods, have resulted in local rice farmers organizing protests of the outsider and damage to the new farmer’s crop.

Shigeaki Okamoto, a fruit and vegetable farmer, who operates without tariff protection, reportedly contends that the rice protectionism is more to protect the bureaucracy of the rice agricultural cooperatives that operate under the overriding Japan Agricultural Group (J.A.).

“There is one co-op employee for every two full-time rice farmers,” Tabuchi wrote. And he added that the central government’s current farming budget expenses are seven times the budget to oversee “the nonagricultural 99 percent of the Japanese economy.”

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