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Remarks by Secretary Vilsack to Town Hall with Japanese High School and University Students in Tokyo, Japan

November 20, 2015

Evan Mangino: Good afternoon, my name is Evan Mangino. I am the Deputy Director of the Agricultural Trade Office, and an Agricultural Attaché, and I'd like to welcome you to the U.S. Embassy and thank you for taking the time to be here with us today. Before I introduce our esteemed guest, I would like to set the stage for our discussion this afternoon on the importance of trade for maintaining healthy and vibrant agricultural communities.

With the average age of Japanese farmers approaching 70, and more than 400,000 hectares of agricultural land laying fallow, some people would say that the outlook for Japanese agriculture is bleak. However, we would disagree. The challenges facing Japanese agriculture have been developing for years. They are not new. And while these challenges are not new, we are encouraged by the renewed efforts of the Government of Japan to enable the next generation of Japanese farmers to succeed.

Policies designed to bring fallow land back into production, and to help aggregate larger contiguous fields will help farmers to achieve greater efficiency. Strategies to promote national brands will help foreign buyers appreciate the safe, high quality products for which Japan is (or should be) famous around the world. Programs to enhance Japanese farmers' business and managerial skills will help farmers to recognize and take advantage of the emerging business opportunities.

All of these things, and more, are happening now. And we think they are part of why, right now, it is such an interesting time to be a farmer or rancher in Japan.

And now to share from his vast experience of U.S. agriculture, and what it takes to help rural communities thrive, I give you the Secretary of Agriculture, Mr. Tom Vilsack.

Secretary Vilsack: Thank you. Thank you very much.

I want to give you all an opportunity to ask as many questions as possible. I want to be brief with my comments. If you have no questions, at some point then I will have a boring thirty minute speech which you'll have to listen to. So, be thinking about your questions.

This is an exciting time, an exciting time for agriculture generally - not just in Japan, but around the world. The reason I say that is because we are seeing an ever increasing global population. And the result is that there is going to be a great demand for food – quality, safe, affordable food. In order to meet the global demand, the world's farmers (including the Japanese farmers) will have to produce seventy percent more food than is being produced today, in the next thirty five to forty years. Now, to give you a sense of how much of a challenge that might be, in order to produce seventy percent more food than is being produced today, it will require as much innovation in agriculture in the next thirty five years as we have had in the previous ten thousand years.

So agriculture is going to need bright, young people in every country to be engaged - to figure out creative ways to produce more with less. Now that, in and of itself, would be a challenge that young people should be excited about. But then, when you consider the need to be able to produce all of that additional food, at a time when the climate is changing, and is creating more challenges for agriculture, globally. There are weather conditions that are more intense, and longer duration, as a result of a warming climate and a warming world that will make it imperative that bright young people figure out creative ways to adapt and mitigate to a changing climate.

Now, one strategy to meet the need of global food needs is the issue of trade. The ability for each country to figure out what it does best, and then to be able to be sure that it has adequate supplies for its own people, and make available for others the surplus that they grow. Trade is an extraordinarily complicated topic. But it's incredibly important. Just think of the benefits you get from trade. First, consumers in countries that trade with one another have this extraordinary diversity of options and choices.

That's an incredible product that can be made available all over the world. This morning I had a breakfast in one of your local hotels here, and I had this amazing fruit plate. Now, I gotta tell you, I didn't know half of the fruits on that plate, but they were delicious. Some were sweet. Some were a little sour. But the combination was extraordinary. I can tell you that there are consumers all over the world that are going to be quite interested in having that array of fruit available to them. So, one benefit of trade is that consumers have this enormous diversity in choice. And when you have diversity in choice, there's competition. And when there's competition, it means that consumers wind up paying less for their food. So consumers benefit.

In my country, and in your country, there are also jobs that are created by trade. If you think about it, when a farmer produces something, it has to be transported to a processing facility – that's a job. It has to be processed – that's a job. It has to be packaged – that's a job. It has to be transported to a ship, or a train, in order for it to be sent to a market – that's a job. It has to be placed on a shelf in a grocery store – that's a job. It has to be checked-out of a grocery store by someone – that's a job. And the reality is that when you're trading, there are literally millions of job opportunities. So, in my country, eleven million Americans are employed because of trade, and one million Americans are employed because of agricultural trade.

So, as Japan creates this new opportunity to brand itself as having high quality fruit products, and safe fruit products, there are going to be jobs created throughout your economy. And you as young, creative, thoughtful leaders can help create that new economy – the extension of the Japanese economy.

So, consumers have choice, and affordable food. Folks looking for jobs have jobs. And farmers are benefited by trade because it stabilizes markets. There's a situation where you've got a great harvest, and you've got more than your country needs, you always have trading opportunities to stabilize the market so that you can be more predictable in terms of how much your income is going to be.

And as farmers are required to innovate, then the people who make farm machinery, the people who are involved in researching seeds, the people who are involved in figuring out more efficient ways to harvest and collect and store, they too will benefit from this trading opportunity.

So, as young people who are thinking about career opportunities, agriculture is a place where you might seriously consider your life's work. In America today, and I expect this is probably true in Japan as well, there are about sixty thousand job opportunities available for those with a college education in agriculture. And we're only educating about thirty-five thousand for those jobs. So there's a tremendous demand, and my guess is that's probably true in this country as well.

Your government is now engaged in educating the people of Japan about the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. And they will outline the benefits to Japan, and Japanese growers, and Japanese companies and businesses from a document that is a thousand pages long. We're doing the same thing in the United States. And I'm sure your government is probably looking at ways in which it can also provide help and assistance to producers and farmers, so that as they are transitioning to this new day they are not as concerned about the future. We're doing kind of the same thing in the U.S. – we have a new farm policy. We're concerned about the aging nature of our farmers – as you are here. We're trying to encourage young people to get into the farming business. Our website at has an entire section on beginning farmers, and the various programs that we have to encourage people to get into the farming business. You may want to take a look at that website and see if there's anything that might potentially be transferable here in Japan.

We're going to work hard to get TPP done, because of the benefits of trade. We're also going to get TPP done because Japan and the United States are what I like to refer to, and many refer to, as high standards countries. That is to say that we set high standards for working conditions, for farm safety, for ways in which products are produced. There are some that don't have as high a standard. And what we're trying to do is encourage the rest of the world to meet the standard that Japan has met, and that the U.S. has met. That's why they'll refer to this Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement as a "high standards" agreement. It's lifting everyone up to where Japan is, and where the U.S. is.

There are some that would like to have, perhaps, not as high a standard. I know that the Chinese were in the process of negotiating an all-Asia trade agreement. It's going to be important for Japan and the United States to work collaboratively together in Asia to make sure that we balance the influence of other nations in Asia. And that we encourage every nation in Asia and around the world to look to high standards, because when that occurs, we'll all be competing, if you will, on a more level playing field.

So this is an important time, it's an exciting time. There's an unlimited opportunity in agriculture.

Now there's another problem that I'll address that I'm sure isn't as much a problem here as it is in some other countries, but it's one that you, as young people, ought to be sensitive to and you ought to urge people like me to think more about. The issue of food waste. A third of all the food produced in the world is wasted. It's put into landfills. It creates methane. It's a problem.

So, the Agricultural Ministers of the G20 are working collaboratively together to raise awareness about food waste – to make people more sensitive to reduce portion sizes, to make sure that we reuse food that is safe to consume, and that if we can't reuse it, or reduce portion size, that we recycle and compost the food waste. It's something that you ought to be giving some thoughts to here as well in Japan.

So, you have just an amazing opportunity here. You've got wonderful products. You've got great farmers. You have a system that provides for safe food. You've got a brand that will sell around the world. You're a high standards country. And I think there's unlimited opportunity in agriculture.