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Abe’s Claim That Japan Needs U.S. Corn Due to Pests Looks Shaky

Aya Takada

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The argument by Japan’s premier Shinzo Abe that the country needs to buy U.S. corn because pests are eating up its domestic production is looking rather dubious.

“With regard to the potential purchase of American corn, in Japan we are now experiencing insect pest on some of the agricultural products,” Abe said during a joint press conference with Trump last week, after striking a deal to buy more American agricultural products in return for delaying additional tariffs on Japanese auto exports.

But Japan produces just 1,000 tons of feed corn a year, a tiny amount compared with imports of about 11 million tons. That means that even if every single field was damaged by the moth larvae that Abe was referring to, the country would still only need to import 1,000 tons to fill the gap. The U.S. is already the top supplier of corn, holding a 92% share of Japan’s total imports last year.

Despite this, Trump indicated the purchases will be huge. Because China didn’t buy what is said it would as part of the trade war negotiations, there’s now an excess of U.S. corn, and Japan will be “buying all of that corn,” he said.

No Need

The damage from the pests on domestic production is limited, said Akihiko Hirasawa, senior chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute in Tokyo. Also, Japan doesn’t need to increase its corn imports that are used for animal feed either, as the free-trade agreement under the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership means it’s buying more meat instead, he said.

What’s more, local media reports that Japan will buy more corn from the U.S. -- equivalent to three months of its requirement -- would mean that the Asian nation will need to reduce purchases from America by the same amount next year or resell the corn to other countries, he said. Kyodo News reported that Japan will buy an additional 2.5 million tons of U.S. corn.

“There are no reasons for Japan to boost corn imports,” Hirasawa said.

--With assistance from Isabel Reynolds.

To contact the reporter on this story: Aya Takada in Tokyo at atakada2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anna Kitanaka at akitanaka@bloomberg.net, Jake Lloyd-Smith

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