Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

 Part of the pushback against these deals is the continued growth in rural communities of controversial factory farms (operations with thousands, if not tens of thousands, of animals producing large amounts of manure) primarily to feed exporting agribusiness companies. (Photo: KOMUnews/cc/flickr)

Part of the pushback against these deals is the continued growth in rural communities of controversial factory farms (operations with thousands, if not tens of thousands, of animals producing large amounts of manure) primarily to feed exporting agribusiness companies. (Photo: KOMUnews/cc/flickr)

Trump’s Japan Deal Another Win for Global Meat Companies

The Trump administration is building quite a record of favoritism for these multinationals that now rivals its well-known allegiance to the fossil fuel industry.

Ben Lilliston

If the world can be seen as a game of Risk, the global meat industry—with the help of the Trump administration—just got Japan. While the President touted last week’s deal as aiding struggling U.S. farmers hurt by trade fights, the real winners are global players like the Chinese-owned Smithfield, Brazil-based JBS and Cargill, who have lobbied together for years to further pry open Japan’s market for their beef and pork.

The real winners are global players like the Chinese-owned Smithfield, Brazil-based JBS and Cargill, who have lobbied together for years to further pry open Japan’s market for their beef and pork.

The latest win for these big meat goliaths comes on the heels of the recently completed EU-Japan trade deal, and the completion of what was previously called the Trans Pacific Partnership (the 11-nation CPTPP) – an agreement that the Trump administration pulled out of. Both deals lowered Japanese tariffs on agriculture imports, aiding these companies’ operations around the world. The latest deal with Japan will lock in many of the same wins for these global corporations’ U.S.-based operations.

Earlier this year, U.S. and Japanese food and farm groups (including IATP) raised concerns that an agreement would only benefit global agribusiness. In a letter, the groups criticized a deal “that serves only to open our respective markets and strengthen corporate control over our rural economies.  Market openings under previous trade agreements have contributed to the failure of independent family farms and increases in corporate concentration in agriculture, as well as environmental degradation and weakened standards for food safety.”

Similar objections were raised during the fight over the original TPP. In 2016, more than 160 farm, food, rural and faith groups ripped the TPP for serving the interests of global trading firms over farmers. Part of the pushback against these deals is the continued growth in rural communities of controversial factory farms (operations with thousands, if not tens of thousands, of animals producing large amounts of manure) primarily to feed exporting agribusiness companies. These operations are facing rising opposition from rural residents, including independent family farmers themselves. Rural communities suffer from air and water pollution associated with factory farm manure lagoons, while independent producers are driven out of the market.

Also like the TPP and the proposed new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) agreement, the Japan agreement completely ignores climate change. This omission represents another win for global meat companies, who are coming under increasing fire for their role in rising greenhouse gas emissions. Research published last year by IATP and GRAIN found that the top five global meat and dairy companies combined were responsible for more GHGs than fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil, Shell and BP.

Instead, the limited U.S.-Japan deal covers agricultural products and a narrow set of industrial goods (like machine tools, bicycles and musical instruments). There is also a separate executive agreement on digital trade that appears to be lifted from the new NAFTA. Also referenced in public announcements by both countries is a verbal commitment from the Trump administration not to apply additional tariffs on Japanese auto parts entering the U.S. – at least in the immediate term.

Japan is the United States’ third biggest agriculture export market according to the U.S. Trade Representative, and the country’s biggest market for exported pork, beef and wheat. The deal lowers Japanese tariffs on those and a number of other U.S. agricultural exports to levels previously agreed to by Japan under the CPTPP.

Unlike the TPP, Japan’s rice market was not included in the deal. And five House members have written to the USTR criticizing the dairy parts of the agreement, arguing that it provides less market access than enjoyed by dairy companies exporting to Japan from the CPTPP countries and the EU. The deal also opens up the U.S. market for more Japanese beef (a relatively small part of the U.S. market), while reducing 42 tariff lines for food and agriculture imports from Japan.

The Trump administration believes that because the agreement only involves tariff reductions in a small number of sectors, it does not require Congressional approval. The final text of the deal has still not been published. The secrecy of the negotiations with Japan, including the exclusion of Congress throughout, represents another step backward in efforts to make trade negotiations more transparent, inclusive and accountable. The USTR’s behind-closed-doors approach works well for plugged in multinationals like Cargill, Tyson and others well represented on its trade advisory committees.

The agreement is contingent on approval of the Japanese parliament, expected this fall, and would go into effect on January 1. According to the USTR, phase two of the negotiations will begin in the spring of 2020, and include other elements of the CPTPP, such as dispute resolution, investor protections and rules on food safety, intellectual property and government procurement. That phase will likely take much longer to reach agreement and if agreed to, would require Congressional involvement and approval. It is unclear how much appetite Japan actually has for a phase two negotiation – with their primary goal, the prevention of new auto-related tariffs, already achieved in this initial agreement.

The trade win for global meat companies is just the latest favor the Trump administration has awarded the industry. From speeding up pork processing line speeds, to refusing to include mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for meat in the new NAFTA, to directly handing the companies tens of millions of dollars as part of its trade aid program—the Trump administration is building quite a record of favoritism for these multinationals that now rivals its well-known allegiance to the fossil fuel industry.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Ben Lilliston

Ben Lilliston

Ben Lilliston is the Director of Rural Strategies and Climate Change at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the co-author of the book "Genetically Engineered Foods: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers" (2004).

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'On Her Way Home': WNBA Star Brittney Griner Freed in US-Russia Prisoner Swap

"Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner," said U.S. President Joe Biden. "She is safe. She is on a plane."

Jessica Corbett ·


Historic Offshore Wind Lease Sale in California Gets Over $750 Million in Winning Bids

"If we build on today's forward momentum, the United States can dramatically reduce its global warming emissions and become a global leader in renewable energy technologies like deep-water offshore wind."

Brett Wilkins ·


Solidarity Fund Up and Running for Designer Behind Iconic Bernie Sanders Posters

Tyler Evans "has dedicated his life to the progressive movement," says the GoFundMe created for the hospitalized designer. "Now it's our time to have Tyler's back when he and his family need it most."

Jessica Corbett ·


Journalism Defenders Push for Passage of 'Game-Changing' PRESS Act

"The PRESS Act is the most important free press legislation in modern times because it would finally stop the government from spying on journalists and threatening them with arrest for doing their jobs," explained one advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·


New York Times Union Workers Planning Dec. 8 Walkout, Rally Over Pay

"Our collective action is working: Management backed off its attempt to kill our pension and agreed to expand fertility benefits," the union said of ongoing talks. "But management still barely budged on some of our most important priorities."

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo