. . . . . . "Dalit Solidarity News" is an information project run by the International Dalit Solidarity Network. News stories are extracts from online newsservices. Link to the full story is found at the end of each blog. Visit the International Dalit Solidarity Network at www.idsn.org

<< current

Formed in 2000, the IDSN is a network of international organisations, national solidarity networks and affected country groups, campaigning against caste-based discrimination throughout the world, from the dalits of South Asia to the Osu of Nigeria and the Burakumin of Japan. Visit our website International Dalit Solidarity Network for more information. SUBMIT DALIT NEWS HERE

Wednesday, November 09, 2005  
Defiant Japan fights for its leather industry

Asia Times
9 November 2005

By Hisane Masaki

In defiance of mounting pressure to fully liberalize imports of foreign leather products, including footwear, Japan is digging in its heels to safeguard its internationally uncompetitive industry.

At first glance, the import restrictions may look like typical protectionist trade measures that can be seen elsewhere in the world. But lying beneath the surface of the current issue is the bitter legacy of the feudal hierarchy.

With a make-or-break ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Geneva-based watchdog on global commerce, drawing near, international pressure is growing by the day for Japan to take drastic measures to further liberalize its imports of foreign leather products, as well as agricultural ones. The meeting, scheduled for December 13-18 in Hong Kong, will aim to strike a deal on a framework for further liberalizing trade in goods and services.


In the negotiations on market access for non-farm products, however, Japan is on the offensive. It is strongly clamoring for a complete elimination of import tariffs in many areas where Japan has a competitive advantage, such as automobiles and consumer electronics.

But even here, there are a few exceptions. Japan is dead set against fully liberalizing imports of leather products, including leather footwear, as well as those of forestry and marine products, which are being dealt with in the WTO's negotiating group on non-agricultural market access.

Japan's tariff quota system
Japan had maintained the import quota (IQ) system for foreign leather products until 1986, when the IQ system was replaced with the current tariff quota (TQ). A country with a TQ system imposes a quota on products that can be shipped into the country either tariff-free or with relatively low tariffs. Imports that exceed the quota face much higher - often prohibitively high - tariffs and, as a result, lose much of their competitiveness in the country's market.

In the face of international pressure, however, the Japanese government has cautiously but steadily eased its import restrictions, starting with the 1986 introduction of the current TQ system to replace the previous IQ system. The quotas have been increased gradually, and Japan has also met its Uruguay round agreements to lower the ad valorem ceiling rate by 50% and the alternative "per pair" or specific-rate ceiling by 10%. These market-opening measures have put many of weak domestic tanners in dire straits.

Long-standing complaint
To be sure, there are growing calls from many other WTO members, especially from poor, developing ones, for Japan, the world's second largest economy after the US, to fully liberalize its imports of leather products. But leather is also a long-standing irritant in Japan's trade relations with its two major industrialized trading partners - the 25-nation European Union and the US.

Taboo factor behind the issue
The question of whether to level the playing field between domestic and foreign makers of leather products is not a purely economic one. It is also a highly sensitive political and social question that involves buraku-min, or hamlet people.

Even today buraku-min, the descendants of Japan's former social outcasts, still face widespread prejudice and discrimination despite being ethnically identical to other Japanese. Many buraku-min earn their living by tanning leather, some of them still in secluded buraku - or hamlets - in various parts of the country, especially in Osaka and surrounding districts of western Japan.

Leather and leather goods manufacturing is a traditional leading industry in buraku. Manufacturers there are mostly minuscule in scale and financially weak, and the Japanese government has tried to keep them afloat with import restrictions as part of broader efforts to address the touchy issue of socially disadvantaged people.

News about how Korean residents, Ainu people - indigenous inhabitants in the northernmost main Japanese island of Hokkaido - and Okinawans on the southernmost Japanese island of Okinawa are heavily discriminated against in Japan have often grabbed headlines. But even talk of buraku-min - another group of relentless segregated people - has traditionally been considered taboo in Japanese society as a whole - and even in the major media. So Japanese trade diplomats seldom touch on the former untouchables publicly when they make their case against fully opening the domestic leather market to foreign competition in bilateral or global trade liberalization talks.

The oppression of buraku-min's ancestors, who were branded eta (very filthy or impure) or hinin (non-human), began during the Edo period (1603-1868), when the four social classes - samurai, farmers, craftsmen and merchants - were arbitrarily created. In addition to these four well-known classes, many other social classes actually existed, and eta or hinin people were at the bottom of the feudal hierarchy. Numerous regulations rigidly governed the occupation, residence, marriage, style of dress and social behavior of buraku-min, who were engaged in occupations thought to be undesirable, including disposal of the dead, collecting garbage, butchering animals and tanning and crafting leather. The jobs of handling the flesh of four-legged animals, such as butchers and leather artisans, were thought to be something violating Buddhist strictures against killing. People who made their living as security guards and executioners were also shunned.

Official estimates put the current number of hamlets where buraku-min people are concentrated at 4,442 across the country and the number of buraku-min at 1.2 million. But unofficial figures are much higher - 6,000 hamlets and 3 million buraku-min, including people who live outside their hamlets.

Several years after the 1868 Meiji Restoration, which restored imperial power, the Japanese caste system was abolished and the Emancipation Edict was issued. Article 14 of the post-World War II constitution also mandates equality before the law and bans discrimination based on race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.

More recently, as a result of tenacious lobbying by the Buraku Liberation League, Japan's largest outcast rights group, the government has enacted a series of laws aimed at improving the living conditions in buraku-min's hamlets by upgrading such infrastructure as housing and roads, and education, as the main pillar of efforts to promote dowa, or compatriot reconciliation. The first such law was enacted in 1969. The most recent one, enacted in 1987 with a five-year life span, expired in 2002 after being extended for five years twice.

Some of the government funds provided to buraku-min's hamlets under these laws were regarded by the EU in the late 1990s as subsidies to leather tanners. When the EU filed a WTO complaint over Japan's leather import restrictions in 1998, a senior Japanese trade official said,"Even if a WTO panel is set up at the EU's request, it is inconceivable that the panel's decision will require Japan to abolish the tariff-quota system itself. But there is a possibility that the government subsidies to domestic tanners will be judged a violation of WTO subsidy codes, which prohibit any government from doling out subsidies greater than 5% of the value of the domestic output of a product in question."

Justice Ministry officials boast that as a result of government-funded dowa projects, efforts to develop physical infrastructure of buraku has achieved steady results and that the regional disparity with other districts has become considerably smaller.

To be sure, the living standards of buraku-min may have significantly improved. But more than a century after they were legally liberated under the Emancipation Edict, buraku-min still endure psychological pains and suffering due to continued prejudice and discrimination.

Some people claim that with rapid demographic changes, many buraku-min have quietly blended into the rest of society and that at least in Tokyo, dwellers harbor little, if any, sense of discrimination against buraku-min. But the Buraku Liberation League dismisses the claim.
Meanwhile, while keeping import restrictions for leather products with the TQ system, Japan, bowing to international pressure for freer trade, has gradually increased imports by expanding the quotas on low-tariff imports and lowering tariff rates. As for leather footwear, China is by far the largest source of imports under the TQ system. Also outside the framework of the TQ system, tariff-free and quota-free imports of cheap leather footwear from such least developed countries (LDCs) as Bangladesh, Myanmar and Cambodia are soaring sharply thanks to the special treatment granted to them under the so-called Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).

The Tokyo Jinken-ren (Tokyo Human Rights Federation), which is affiliated with the Zenkoku Jinken-ren (National Human Rights Federation), another buraku-min rights group, estimates that Japan's imports of leather footwear have risen 80% in the past decade while domestic output has plunged 40% during that period. Shipments of leather footwear by business establishments in Tokyo alone, including the traditional producing district of Asakusa, have shrunk to 57% of what they were 10 years ago.

The Tokyo group, headquartered in Ueno, very close to Asakusa, warns that Japan's leather-footwear industry is "in danger of extinction because it is being effectively liberalized at an accelerated pace". In its fiscal 2005 campaign policy, the group vows it is firmly determined to demand continued protection of Japan's leather-footwear industry, especially maintaining the TQ system, with the slogan of "Protect Japan's shoes [in general] and Asakusa's shoes [in particular]".

Link to the full article

8:21 AM

Monday, November 07, 2005  
Gohana riots: CBI dismisses case as arson

November 6, 2005

Three months after their homes were reduced to ashes, Dalits in Gohana village in Haryana are trying to pick up the pieces. In August, tension between the Jats and Dalits escalated after the murder of a Jat man, and an angry Jat mob burnt down close to 60 Dalit homes in revenge.

But a CBI report into the incident describes it as a simple case of arson, effectively letting many who were involved, off the hook."We wanted justice so we had asked for a CBI inquiry. The government had promised that those responsible will be punished. There is still tension.
Everyday the Jats say they won't even let the CBI touch them," said Deepak Kumar, a resident of Dalit colony.

After the incident the local police arrested two Dalit men, who were involved in the murder of the Jat man, which led to the arson.

Biased arrests
Just last month the CBI arrested seven more Dalits for the murder. But so far only four Jat men have been arrested by the local police for burning down the Dalit homes. The CBI has made no more arrests even though they admit 51 men were involved. "The CBI has to do a proper investigation. Our boys are in jail so why have no Jat men been arrested?" asked Bali Rani, another resident of the Dalit Colony.

The investigating agency has also given a virtual clean chit to the brother and son of BJP MP Kishan Singh Sangwan who were accused of leading the Jat mob. Sources say their role cannot be proved. The residents of the Dalit colony had pinned all their hopes on the CBI report, but now they feel cheated and fear another attack, as those responsible for the first incident have still not been arrested.

Link to the article

9:02 AM

This page is powered by Blogger.