The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Ministry of AGRICULTURE, Forestry and Fisheries 
Eto takes forceful approach from the get-go

When Taku Eto became minister of Agri­culture, Forestry and Fisheries last September, a substantial list of issues awaited him. Among the concerns was a threat to the US–Japan Free Trade Agreement (USJTA) posed by swine cholera.

He has embarked on a series of bold moves to tackle the challenges. One thing that surprised those involved was that, following the signing of the USJTA, Eto held a press conference at the ministry at 3:30 a.m.

In the new accord, the markets of highest priority for the United States—beef, pork, and wheat—are to be opened to the same level as they would have been under the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The decision concerning duty-free imports of rice, however, which has been treated as Japan’s sanctuary from foreign imports, will be delayed.

At the press conference, Eto gave his assess­ment of the agreement and remembered to add remarks concerning negotiations conducted by Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi that “the results were obtained through exquisite timing.”

Next on Eto’s agenda will be to work out policies that provide assistance to farm families engaged in animal husbandry, which have been affected by market-opening measures. “We want to carefully observe how things go and give consideration so that Japanese agriculture does not suffer,” Eto said.

His bold moves also include a decision to proceed with cholera vaccinations at swineries. His predecessor, Takamori Yoshikawa, had been hesitant to impose this due to concerns it might impact exports and, instead, adopted a wait-and-see approach. But, following a cholera outbreak in the Kanto region, a major region for pork production, Eto reversed course.

With the expiration dates approaching on 500,000 doses of the vaccine, he ordered their use before expiration. These vaccinations might impact pork products, but, at present, the guidelines only control distribution of living animals, with the understanding that sales of fresh or processed meat products would be effectively excluded.

Prime Minister’s Office
Nishimura to tackle social pension system
Yasutoshi Nishimura, the former vice cabinet secretary, was appointed in September as the special cabinet member in charge of economic revitalization. One of his key responsibilities is the reform of the social insurance scheme to one that works for all generations.

The native of Akashi City, in Hyogo Prefecture, is said to have close ties with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and has been appointed to his first cabinet post. He belongs to the Hosoda faction of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP), the faction previously headed by Abe. It has been pointed out that, in addition to long being close to the prime minister, he made efforts to organize younger parliamentarians to back Abe in the LDP’s general election.

In addition to having declared his own candidacy for leadership of the LDP in the 2009 election, he served as vice chief cabinet secretary after the LDP regained control of the government in 2012. Now he has realized his long-awaited return to the cabinet.

Immediately following his appointment, Nishimura embarked on a nationwide inspection tour of various places, including Tokyo’s Sumida Ward, Kawaguchi City in Saitama Prefecture, Sendai City in Miyagi Prefecture, and Hokkaido, among others. The purpose was to see how the program of issuing premium vouchers was proceeding ahead of the consumption tax increase. He also attended hearings on regional economies. The impression he gave was truly that of a man able to harness his physical energy to move in a forceful manner.

In the near future, Nishimura’s role as economic revitalization minister will be to wait for the outcomes of Japan’s increased consumption tax, US–China trade friction, Brexit, and other important issues. He will watch closely for risks to the world economy that may have an impact on Japan and take appropriate steps.

The reform of the social insurance scheme—a must as Japan faces an increasing percentage of elderly in the population and a correspond-ing decline in contributors to the tax base and pension scheme—is understood to be a difficult issue, and it is certain that Nishimura’s performance in this area will determine his political future