By Tim Burrack: Arlington, Iowa
In his address to Congress last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his love for the United States—and also his gratitude.
Following the Second World War, he said, “Japan had been reduced to ashes.”
Yet America refused to leave its wartime foe smoldering.
“Then came each and every month from the citizens of the United States gifts to Japan like milk for our children and warm sweaters and even goats,” he said. “Yes, from America, 2,036 goats came to Japan.”
I don’t know much about goats—but I know a lot about hogs.
In 1959, after a major typhoon slashed across Japan, Iowa farmers joined with the Department of Agriculture and the Air Force to ship three-dozen hogs to the ravaged prefecture of Yamanashi. Within three years, these animals had produced 500 progeny. Within a decade, this number had grown to half a million—and Japan’s hog industry was back on its feet.
In 2010, I traveled to Japan to commemorate the 50th anniversary of this event, still remembered by both Iowans and Japanese.
Abe didn’t mention the “Yamanashi Hog Lift” in his speech, but that’s okay. His speech showed why Japan is such an excellent friend and ally to the United States—an economic partner and strategic collaborator.
Now it’s our turn to let Japan help the United States—and all we have to do is finish and approve the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) with Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim nations. We could be just a few weeks away from doing it.
American farmers already sell a lot of what we grow and raise to the Japanese: more than $12 billion per year, making Japan the fourth-largest destination for our agricultural exports. Even so, we haven’t even started to crack this important market. It remains beset by dizzying levels of protectionism that exclude many of our products. Moreover, we’ve lost market share in recent years to competitors.
TPP gives us a unique opportunity to change this.
Abe’s speech last week provided the living proof. Two decades ago, he said, “I was much younger, and like a ball of fire, and opposed to opening Japan’s agricultural market.” He acknowledged that he was part of a political problem: “I even joined farmers’ representatives in a rally in front of the Parliament.”
Yet this intransigence only put off a day of reckoning. “Japan’s agriculture has gone into decline over these last 20 years,” he said. The average Japanese farmer is now more than 66 years old—and getting older all the time.
“Japan’s agriculture is at a crossroads,” he continued. “In order for it to survive, it has to change now. We are bringing great reforms toward the agriculture policy that’s been in place for decades.”
In speaking these words, Abe demonstrated great political bravery. He’s trying something that no Prime Minister before him has dared to do, rolling back his Japan’s traditional protectionism and reversing the entrenched habits of an entire country.
The question is: Will the United States encourage these reforms and take advantage of them? Or will we turn our backs on the Japanese and say we’re not interested in selling them more of our exports?
This is just another way of asking: Will we embrace the opportunity of TPP? Or will we reject a chance to finish a free-trade agreement that will create jobs and prosperity in the United States?
By helping Abe and Japan, we help ourselves: TPP promises to boost our exports to Japan and other countries by $120 million per year over the next decade.
The most important thing Congress can do right now is approve Trade Promotion Authority. Two weeks ago, the Senate Finance Committee passed it on a bipartisan vote, 20-6. This legislative tool allows the president to submit trade deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote. It would show Abe and his fellow reformers that we’re serious about finalizing a trade agreement—and it would put our trade diplomats in the best possible position as they enter the final sessions of TPP talks.
Last week, Congress gave Abe a standing ovation. Now it should give him a trade agreement.
Tim Burrack raises corn, soybeans and pork on a NE Iowa family farm. He serves as Vice-Chairman and volunteers as a Board Member of Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).