logo logo

No support in Japanese beef industry for FTA with Australia

ABC Radio, Australia

The World Today

No support in Japanese beef industry for FTA with Australia

19 April 2005

Reporter: Peter Cave

ELEANOR HALL: When he leaves China for Japan tomorrow, Prime Minister, John Howard, will still be focusing on a free trade deal. He will be asking his Japanese counterpart, Junichiro Koizumi, to start down the track of a Free Trade Agreement between Australia and Japan.

But while trade between the countries is already booming, inside Japan the prospect of a free trade deal with Australia is not popular, as Foreign Affairs Editor Peter Cave reports from Fukushima.

(Sound of cow lowing)

PETER CAVE: This is a Japanese Wagyu beef farm, about 100 head, two or three to a pen and fed prime grain until their flesh is marbled with fat. It’s an expensive business not very efficient, and that’s reflected in the price it brings. You wont get a lot of change from $150 a kilogram.

But there is still a keen market for the melt in the mouth morsels briefly grilled over the Yakinikku brazier, and then dipped in a rich sauce to be eaten.

(Sound of sizzling meat)

Australia can and does produce high quality beef for the Japanese market.

(Sound of people ordering food)

But this is where most Australian beefs ends up - in a hamburger joint.

But farmers like Fusako Suzuki who runs a small cattle stud in the mountains of Fukushima are worried that an Australian Free Trade Agreement will force prices down across the board and make her small farm, just 30 head of stock, unviable.

FUSAKO SUZUKI (translated): Our income will be affected. We will not have farms to pass on to our kids.

PETER CAVE: A little further up the mountain, Toru Yamauji runs a large farm by Japanese standards producing cross bred cattle for a less expensive market. He’s the chairman of the Japanese Cattlemen’s Union and he sees the FTA as direct competition.

TORU YAMAUJI (translated): I am against it, I am against it.

PETER CAVE: Why is that?

TORU YAMAUJI (translated): We have tried to cut costs as much as possible but we can’t cut costs any further. If much cheaper Australian beef is imported we will be badly hurt.

PETER CAVE: The Australian Government has said that a Free Trade Agreement would make Japanese agriculture more efficient and they would be able to export more. What do you think of that argument?

TORU YAMAUJI (translated): About two thirds of farmers are fattening calves in mountain areas like this. They are family businesses and only have a few cattle. If much cheaper beef is imported I think they will be damaged a lot.

I would like to appeal to the Japanese Government and politicians to take action against any FTA keeping in mind the future of Japanese agriculture.

PETER CAVE: Japan has free trade agreements with other countries. Why is Australia different?

(Toru laughs)

TORU YAMAUJI (translated): Australian beef is produced very cheaply, if we import from them there will be a large impact on Japan.

PETER CAVE: Toru Yamauji.

And it appears that he has some support for his views within the Japanese Government, with the Agriculture Minister telling a news conference last week that he doesn’t think that an FTA with Australia is necessary.

This is Peter Cave reporting from Fukushima for the The World Today.