The Potential for Japan–Russia Agricultural Cooperation

|Russia

At the Russia–EU summit held in Khabarovsk in the Far East negotiations concerning the problem of the stable supply of energy apparently ended unsatisfactorily, yet Russia’s integration process into the Asia-Pacific region made steady progress.

In Japan–Russia relations, the supply of liquefied natural gas from Sakhalin to Japan has commenced, and on 11 May Prime Minister Putin visited Japan for the first time in four years, and talks were held on the potential for Japan–Russia cooperation in various areas related to energy (hydrocarbons and nuclear power), energy conservation, transportation, communication of information, nanotechnology and space. A project list, stretching to 180 instances in Russia as a whole and not just in the Far East and Eastern Siberia, was allegedly presented from the Russian side to the Japanese side. The Russians looked toward Japan warmly.

Agricultural cooperation lies in one of the areas that haven’t much been topics for discussion in Japan–Russia economic relations to date. Last year was the first time that Russia, with the exception of the era of the Soviet Union, produced grain exceeding 100 million tons, and a healthy harvest is forecast for this year too. Exports to the countries of the Mediterranean and Middle East are limited, but interest in exports to Asian countries, and especially Japan, has risen. Russia is striving to exercise leadership in the area of agriculture too, with the proposal made by President Medvedev at last year’s Toyako summit being realized, and the participation of more than 40 nations planned at the World Grain Forum to be held in Saint Petersburg.

Meanwhile, Japan, where the food self-sufficiency ratio has hit 40%, in the future too will have to rely on imports of agricultural produce from other countries, and in the import of soybeans, wheat, and corn (for animal feed) the diversification of supplier countries has become an issue. Amid the increase in the global population, food scarcity has been assumed, and measures for the stable supply of food from abroad are major national policies. On 21 April last, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and related ministries and agencies participating, the “Conference on the Promotion of Investment Overseas for Food Security” was held. Of great interest at this conference was how Russia is rated.

Aside from the major grain imports that the government is involved in, for vegetables the degree of dependency on imports from China is high and from the perspective also of China’s water shortage and soil contamination problems, and food safety, how about turning our gaze further to Russia, and in particular Primorsky Krai and Amur Oblast?

Although the major grain producers of Europe and North America are actively expanding into the Russian agricultural sector, the approaches in the Russian Far East of our neighboring countries of China and the ROK appear more active and advanced than does Japan’s. There have also been recent reports that ROK majors are investing capital to the tune of billions of yen, and in the form of acquiring shares in Russian agricultural corporations, they are moving toward securing arable land, and the production of corn and soybeans. In Amur Oblast and Primorsky Krai, which border on China, many Chinese have settled, legally and illegally, have been engaging in agriculture for years, and with the advantage of low prices are also carrying out the export of Chinese-made agricultural machinery, etc., to Russia.

With the federal government’s National Priority Project for agriculture, each federal subject in the Russian Far East is moving on the implementation of medium-term agriculture promotion programs, but having the problem of decrepit agricultural equipment, and amid a drop in prices for agricultural produce, funding from the banks is delayed, and things cannot be said to be advancing smoothly.

If one considers only the mere importing of the agricultural produce which Russia is currently producing, then Japan–Russia agricultural cooperation is limited. The building of a multifaceted relationship is necessary in order to secure the necessary quality and quantity, making practical use of Japan’s cultivation techniques, seed development techniques, and food processing technology, and sending over Japanese agricultural technicians. For the stable supply of grain the construction of export terminals at the ports of the Russian Far East will probably also be necessary. For both sides to get to a mutual relationship where each needs the existence of the other will probably also take time.

For Japan, its efforts to increase domestic production of food are a matter of course, yet it cannot easily solve the problem of the shortage of agricultural labor. Not only Japan and Russia will enjoy the advantages after actively getting the ball rolling on agricultural cooperation with Russia, but by extension, isn’t the time coming where it will contribute also to the global food supply?

[Translated by ERINA]