Japanese Prime Minister Abe pledges to finish TPP, reform Japanese agriculture | TSLN.com

Japanese Prime Minister Abe pledges to finish TPP, reform Japanese agriculture

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Congress today that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is vital for future generations and that Japanese agriculture must be reformed to survive.

In opening remarks as the first Japanese prime minister to receive the honor of being invited to speak to a joint session, Abe noted the long U.S.-Japanese relationship and extended his condolences "to the souls of All American people that were lost during World War II."

He also noted that when Japan had been "reduced to ashes," gifts of milk, sweaters and goats came from the citizens of the United States.

"Yes, from America, 2,036 goats came to Japan," Abe said.

Abe, 60, spoke in English and made references to his own experiences in the United States and with U.S. culture throughout his speech. In addition to the House and Senate, the audience included Vice President Joe Biden, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Trade Representative Michael Froman and other members of the Cabinet.

Abe noted that when he came to the United States as a student, a lady in California named Catherine Del Francia "let me live in her house" and that her Italian cooking "was simply out of this world."

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He said he was "amazed" at the diversity of her guests and concluded that "America is an awesome country." He also noted that he worked as a steelworker in New York and was impressed that people advanced on merit.

"This culture intoxicated me," Abe said, noting that his colleagues in the Japanese House considered him "cheeky."

Discussing TPP, Abe made it clear that the United States and Japan have shared values that should be promoted through the agreement.

"We must take the lead a build a market that is fair, dynamic, sustainable, and is also free from the arbitrary intentions of any nation," he said with particular emphasis.

"In the Pacific market, we cannot overlook sweat shops or burdens on the environment. Nor can we simply allow free riders on intellectual property," he said.

"We can spread our shared values around the world and have them take root: the rule of law, democracy and freedom. That is exactly what the TPP is all about."

Abe did not mention the difficult issues of autos or agriculture, but said, "As for U.S.-Japan negotiations, the goal is near. Let us bring the TPP to a successful conclusion through our joint leadership."

On agriculture, Abe noted that about 20 years ago when the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the predecessor to the World Trade Organization, was holding negotiations on trade, he participated in a protest against them.

"I was much younger, and like a ball of fire, and opposed to opening Japan's agricultural market. I even joined farmers' representatives in a rally in front of the Parliament."

But he noted that Japanese agriculture has been in decline for 20 years, that the average age of famers is now more than 66 and said that in order for Japanese agriculture to survive "it has to change now."

Japan is "bringing great reforms toward the agriculture policy that's been in place for decades" and "sweeping reforms" to agricultural cooperatives, Abe said.

"Japan will not run away from any reforms. We keep our eyes only on the road ahead and push forward with structural reforms."

Abe did not mention China, but said the Japanese support "the 'rebalancing' by the U.S. in order to enhance the peace and security of the Asia-Pacific region" that President Barack Obama has described as a "pivot" toward Asia.

"We must make the vast seas stretching from the Pacific to the Indian oceans seas of peace and freedom, where all follow the rule of law," he said. "For that very reason we must fortify the U.S.-Japan alliance."

Toward the end of his speech, Abe noted that when he was in high school he took to heart lyrics by Carole King: "When you're down and troubled … close your eyes and think of me, and I'll be there to brighten up even your darkest night."

After March 11, 2011, when a quake, a tsunami and a nuclear accident hit the northeastern part of Japan, the U.S. Armed Forces rushed to the rescue, giving hope for the future, he said.

"Let the two of us, American and Japan, join our hands together and do our best to make the world a better, a much better place to live," Abe concluded.

–The Hagstrom Report