Press Briefing
Speaker: Ambassador Koji Tsuruoka
Title: Director-General for Global Issues, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan

25 April 2008

  1. Japan's initiative on rising food prices
  2. Letters by Prime Minister Fukuda to the UN Secretary-General and World Bank President
  3. Questions concerning export control of food items
  4. Question concerning Japan's food aid contribution
  5. Question concerning potential initiative with the Asian Development Bank
  6. Questions concerning biofuels
  7. Question concerning Japan's position on speculative investment
  8. Questions concerning Japan's food security
  9. Question concerning genetically-modified food
  10. Clarification of distributed materials

I. Japan's initiative on rising food prices

Principal Deputy Director of International Press Division Seiichiro Takahashi: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for joining us today for our briefing session. Here with us today is Mr. Tsuruoka, Director-General for Global Issues. He is going to talk about the Japanese initiative on rising food prices.

Director-General for Global Issues Koji Tsuruoka: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for coming. I will speak for about 10 minutes or so and then take questions.

You might have heard that this morning, the Japanese Government announced its response to the soaring food prices. There are three parts in what we have announced. The specific figures are distributed on the paper that you have in front of you. For the immediate three months that follow from here, we will be allocating a total of about 100 million US dollars worth to be disbursed as food aid. This is intended to address the emergency situation created for humanitarian concern, in other words, those people whose access to food has been hampered by reason of rising food prices, and this is taking into account the emergency appeal that we received from the World Food Programme, addressed to the Prime Minister. We will immediately disburse 50 million US dollars of the 100 million US dollars, specially focusing on Africa, in May, and we will take further measures in the following months. We are taking note that 68 million US dollars has already been disbursed from the beginning of this year, until this time.

II. Letters by Prime Minister Fukuda to the UN Secretary-General and World Bank President

Secondly, Prime Minister Fukuda has written to both UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and Mr. Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, Friday, last week, sharing his sense of urgency in addressing the food prices and requesting both organizations to work with us, meaning, not only Japan, but with the Group of Eight (G8), so that we can best address this issue when the G8 leaders meet this coming July at the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit. The letter has also been copied to the G8 leaders and they are all aware that the issue of soaring food prices will be taken up as a main issue of immediate urgency at the time of the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit. The reason for asking both the United Nations and the World Bank to supply it with the necessary information and inputs is to seek these neutral bodies to provide us with the necessary information, especially the latest information available to them, in order to structure our discussion on a solid basis.

I also would like to say that in the letter by Prime Minister Fukuda, again you have the gist of that distributed to you in front of you, we also have called not only on the immediate and emergency response that is required, but also from the perspective of addressing this from a mid- to long-term viewpoint because the issue that we are confronted with today is not a very simple one. I really do not need to go into greater lengths to explain to you how we see this. I would just like to call your attention to what we say in the letter from Prime Minister Fukuda, that we see this as a challenge that the world of the 21st Century faces in terms of the effect that globalization is having on ordinary people's life.

There are many reasons behind the soaring food prices and you cannot identify just one as being the most serious because it is a combination of a number of them and we will be having an extensive discussion, first of all, sorting out what are the causes and how we can address them. We believe this requires leaders' attention because the issue is very complicated and cannot be addressed by any particular Cabinet Minister alone. The same is true of the United Nations; no single UN agency will be able to handle it on its own. I think Mr. Ban Ki-moon had also the same thought. He has just gathered a taskforce of UN experts from around the members of the UN family to cope with this issue. As you already know of course, Mr. Zoellick gave a speech and he called for a new deal on food and agriculture. The actions that he is calling for are really very extensive.

When I say this issue is not just an issue that is manageable by one Cabinet Minister, it also means that this is not simply an issue of agriculture; it is also an issue of good governance, of how you structure your own economy in terms of income distribution and how the distribution network on top of agricultural production is being addressed in each and every country. And of course if people feel alienated or let's say discriminated against within their own country, the rising food prices may bring to light the unfortunate circumstances the vulnerable people are currently in and it will, as in some cases already, result in internal disturbances. In other words, although the global economy keeps growing, we have to ensure that the growth will indeed result in enhanced stability throughout the world, and in order to do this, we need to ensure that issues such as soaring food prices will not affect the stable condition that makes global economic growth possible.

III. Questions concerning export control of food items

Q: First, can I just clarify that this 100 million US dollars is additional to the 68 million US dollars that was already given this year? The 68 million US dollars is not part of the 100 million US dollars?

Secondly, I understand that Japan is asking the WTO to restrict or prevent food exporters from putting bans on food exports. Is that a move simply by the Ministry of Agriculture or is that a Japanese... I am not quite sure what the status of that movement is.

Mr. Tsuruoka: The answer for the first question is, no. The 100 million and 68 million are two different items in the budget, so therefore you can add them on as a total of the Japanese contribution.

The answer to the second question, we, meaning the Government of Japan's position, is to seek a better rule for addressing export control of food items. I do not think I need to explain why that is important. There are two salient points that I can emphasize: one, the distortion to the food trade and this is very serious. Second, the immediate effect that it has to the shrinking supply of food around the world so those who have the capacity to supply should be able to do so and governments should not restrict them from engaging in the trade of food.

Q: Will Japan make that request at the G8 meeting, or will Japan be asking the WTO before the meeting?

Mr. Tsuruoka: Our view has already been known to most of the relevant parties. It is certain that this issue will be discussed at the G8 Summit or as a lead-up to the G8 Summit. Of course the result depends on the responses of others.

Q: My question is in a sense very similar. Peter Mandelson, the European Commissioner for External Trade, was in town earlier this week and he was asking Japan to join the EU in the Doha negotiations to lobby against an export tariff, which is I think part of the same measures that were previously mentioned. Is that indeed Japan's position and as a country that can only supply 40 percent of its own calories, do you not sympathize with countries that take these extraordinary measures to stop food from exiting their borders?

Mr. Tsuruoka: Whether Japan is joining the EU position or not is an issue that we will have to continue to consider within the Government and we do not have a final position at this time. Whether we are sympathetic to those who restrict their export of food items, I can only give you a personal response. We are a net importer of food commodities so if exporters do not allow exports to come into Japan, we will suffer from not having access to the food that is necessary to the Japanese people. So my personal inclination would be to say that we will favor not having restrictive measures on the export of food items.

IV. Question concerning Japan's food aid contribution

Q: Could I just ask again about the food aid? Was this aid that was already budgeted and has just been brought forward or is this entirely new?

Mr. Tsuruoka: We have no means of coming up with additional budget authority since the FY2008 budget has just been approved and we are now three weeks into implementing that budget so the amount that you see now is from the already approved budget line. That does not mean that this will be the end of the Japanese contribution. We have been providing the developing world with food aid for the last few decades and there is always a line on the Government appropriation to address food aid. But we have now frontloaded all the appropriations that we received three weeks ago and when there is a need to mobilize further resources, we will react as appropriate, but at this time the authority that we have has been fully mobilized to address the emergency needs.

Q: I understand that Japan has 1.52 million tons of imported rice in storage. Are there any plans to donate that?

Mr. Tsuruoka: We have not considered that option at this time. The food supply is governed by a number of rules, including the WTO, and therefore if surplus food is available in Japan, of course we would be happy to look into that, but that is not currently under Government consideration.

V. Question concerning potential initiative with the Asian Development Bank

Q: The ADB (Asian Development Bank) meeting is in Madrid next week. Is Japan likely to announce some initiative specifically through the ADB to address this food problem?

Mr. Tsuruoka: Not that I know of. I am afraid that although the Japanese Government is well coordinated, the ADB is under the auspices of the Ministry of Finance, so they may be but I am not currently aware of that.

VI. Questions concerning biofuels

Q: What is Japan's position on biofuels? I think until recently it has been quite supportive, but public opinion, expert opinion, seems to be turning against biofuels and even seeing it as one of the causes of the current food crisis. Is Japan's position changing and might it make that known in the G8?

Mr. Tsuruoka: As you can see in the Prime Minister's letter, we have also identified the issue of biofuels as being a possible cause of the soaring food prices. The general position on the use of biofuels of the Japanese Government is to make use of the available new technology that allows us to use energy that will be more climate-friendly. Biofuels are still in an evolutionary stage. The current ingredients that allow us to extract ethanol are mostly edible. We are currently trying to develop non-edible fibers to become ingredients for second-generation biofuels. We have always kept in mind the importance of giving food supply priority over climate-friendly energy sources and the Japanese position on using ethanol therefore is favorable as long as it does not result in a negative impact on other important issues. This also includes the protection of forests, or in other words, good forest management. If there is no sustainable forest management and forests are cut down to make way for ethanol production, we have to look at that very carefully because the overall tradeoff is indeed the final scale of judging whether this transition has contributed to the challenge of climate change or not. We still have not fully developed the technology of assessing that issue either and that is why under the Bali Roadmap, the members of the UN have agreed to further consider the issue of forests as we discuss a new framework which we hope to agree upon by the end of 2009.

VII. Question concerning Japan's position on speculative investment

Q: Can I ask about the issue of speculative investment in the future? Some people have blamed that partly for the rise in food prices. What is Japan's position on that? Is that something you intend to take up at the G8?

Mr. Tsuruoka: We take no position in blaming one against the other first of all, but the rising food prices may be affected by another aspect of globalization which is the freer flow of financial resources around the world. Therefore a stronger fund will of course invest into what they see as being most profitable; that in itself cannot be blamed. But if these practices result in depriving people of the necessary food, of course we will have to look into how that can be constructively combined. And that is also one issue that we are going to look into and see whether we can come up with some response that will be appropriate.

Q: When you say "we," who do you mean?

Mr. Tsuruoka: The proposal by Prime Minister Fukuda is to have an extensive discussion on this issue among the leaders and as a lead-up to the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit. Of course let me differentiate a bit on the use of "we." Japan, as the Chair of the G8 Summit, and as I explained earlier, in our request to both the World Bank and the UN, we anticipate that there will be some response that will allow us to have an agenda and set of issues identified that will be appropriate for the G8 leaders to discuss. As you may know, it will not be an impromptu discussion just by the leaders; we need to prepare them to have an engaging discussion, hopefully achieving some result. This is the whole process that we will be engaging in. There are also a number of international conferences that will be held between now and the G8 Summit in July and we will take advantage of these conferences. Some of them are sited in Japan, and we ourselves will be hosting TICAD IV at the end of May, with the participation of not only African states or African leaders. The TICAD conference will be attended by many heads of international organizations and international financial institutions and that will provide us with a very appropriate opportunity to discuss this issue again in depth, but this is going to happen only in about a month's time and we do not necessarily know how far our discussion will go at that time.

In the meantime, there is also a high-level conference proposed by FAO in Rome and that may also provide us with important contributions and inputs for us to engage further and there will be others as well. I think now the world is focusing on the soaring food prices as one important issue of priority and we anticipate that by the time of the G8 Summit there will be a lot more available to us, "to us" meaning the G8 leaders, to address this issue extensively and constructively.

VIII. Questions concerning Japan's food security

Q: I wonder if the Government is thinking to stimulate the consumption of rice as the only food stock which Japan is self-sufficient. Do you think that in the future the Government would recommend Japanese people to eat more rice?

Mr. Tsuruoka: This has been a standing policy of some Japanese interest groups that we promote onigiri, for example, so that people do not go to sandwiches, but this is more a matter of taste of the Japanese people. Although rice continues to be the main staple for the Japanese public, the soaring food prices issue alone is not going to motivate us to take a domestic policy that is different than what we have been taking in the past.

Q: Do you think food security will become a more emotive issue and therefore countries like Japan will be less eager in the future to liberalize their agricultural regimes as a result of this crisis?

Mr. Tsuruoka: That is a question of a very long shot and what I need to be careful about is not to mix politics with the constructive approach we are that we are trying to promote in addressing the crisis we are currently faced with. Food, by definition of course, involves agriculture and that leads to a very politically-heated issue. Of course we cannot ignore the reality of politics but I think what we need to do now is to look at the issue from a more objective viewpoint in identifying where there is a food crunch, meaning where there are people suffering from a lack of access to food, secondly, to identify where the soaring food prices have become reasons for internal instability that may lead to internal conflict. These are the more immediate type of issues that I think we need to focus on and if there are immediate responses that we can deliver to alleviate the situation, we should take immediate action. That is why we have just announced the immediate action that you have just heard. But at the same time if we do not look into the issue from a mid- to long-term perspective, we will have to continue to take immediate measures one after the other and that is not going to be a stabilization measure that I believe the G8 should be promoting with the other partners. Therefore I think the issue should be looked at from different perspectives; one, the immediate attention that we need to focus on, these issues that I may call emergency humanitarian concerns, but second is a more development-related issue which affects not just the food or agricultural production alone but it is a much wider issue that involves the social fabric, the management of the commercial market within a country, the distribution of income, how the social safety nets are provided, or again the trade of food stock around the world because by definition there are countries that cannot be self-sufficient in food and there are countries that have a surplus of food production. The rule I believe is to allow the market to operate as effectively as possible but these are the mid- to long-term issues within the WTO. We are not shying away from taking those up as relevant issues that need to be discussed.

IX. Question concerning genetically-modified food

Q: What is the Japanese Government's stance on genetically-modified crops? I know there has been a lot of resistance among Japanese producers and consumers to genetically-modified food but it is also being reported as one way to alleviate the current supply crunch. Is there a movement in the Japanese Government to gain more acceptance of genetically altered crops among Japanese producers and consumers?

Mr. Tsuruoka: Sorry, I really have no expertise on that question but from what I know, from the issue of food safety, if the safety is satisfactory, then it will become a policy issue that we can consider, but at this time I am afraid I have no authority to speak on that subject.

X. Clarification of distributed materials

Q: I am sorry, my Japanese is not good enough to read these. What are they showing here?

Mr. Tsuruoka: I hope you have someone in your office that can tell you what it is but I would be very happy to explain. This is a map that identifies the currently implemented export restrictions. You can see that we are concerned about these measures by including this in one page of our presentation. I must apologize that we did not prepare this in English, but rather than withholding this from you because it is in Japanese, I thought that I would give this to you and if you find it useful, please use it as may be appropriate for you.

Related Information (G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit)

Back to Index