MAKE no mistake, Japan is the big winner from the slight reduction in agricultural trade barriers announced with so much fanfare from the Prime Minister's captive travelling trade troupe. And that's a perfectly good and very desirable thing.
There's also a strong chance that much of the immediate advantage Australia should enjoy won't last long.
Other beef exporters will be hot on the heels of our most favoured nation status – stand by for American trade negotiators to target the Australian beef tariff level as they seek their own deal. They've never stopped working on a better deal for themselves.
The immediate reaction to the announcement of a handshake deal seems to be close to that which greeted Chamberlain's waved piece of paper on return from Munich.
But a little perspective can be healthy.
Yes, this is a positive agreement and certainly better than no agreement after many years of stalled horse (or beef and cheese) trading, but it's not going to deliver rural wealth in our times.
The world is far too competitive a place for that.
Few clichés have reached the plague proportion of "the devil's in the detail".
Yet there's inevitably a suspicion that there will be a demon or two lurking within the proposed Australia-Japan freer trade agreement. That suspicion remains as long as the details remain secret.
It is reassuring to read Peter Martin's report that there is no investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) procedure in this deal, unlike the South Korean agreement being signed today. But what else isn't in it and just how strong is the Australian government's commitment to the cheapest import prices for Australian consumers?
For example, while we're phasing out tariffs on Japanese cars as the local car manufacturers close shop, promising a $1,500 reduction on a $30,000 new car (a promise that car importers are already backtracking on), where's the push to allow "grey imports" of quality second-hand Japanese cars?
Australian importers will hide behind questionable safety standards claims to protect their franchises and "regional pricing strategies" from a move that would push lower prices throughout the Australian car market. It would indeed be disruptive – and beneficial for consumers.
Still, some improvement is better than none. The main achievement of the proposed agreement is take a brick or two off the top of the wall of Japanese farm protectionism.
It's a creature of Japanese politics that is damaging Japan. If "Abenomics" is to work, the agricultural and social reform of its "third arrow" (behind the first two of massive fiscal and monetary stimulus) has to find its mark.
Given the Japanese population rapidly aging and shrinking, and that Japan's government debt somewhere in the stratosphere, the inefficiencies of extreme agricultural protectionism become unsustainable.
That's a reality behind Abe's willingness to even entertain the possibility of the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks. A starting point for the TPP is that Japan effectively is limited to keeping just rice and sugar off the negotiating table – everything else is in play.
More than half the value of Japanese agriculture comes from government support, a level of magnitude greater than that enjoyed by European Union farmers.
The average Japanese farm remains tiny, agricultural wages are low in a country that's facing a shortage of workers, farmers themselves are an aging group and the economics of importing grain to feed cattle on a relatively small scale are simply absurd.
An economist specialising in trade and agriculture, Dr Andy Stoeckel, provided this perspective in an ABC interview:
"Let me emphasise, the main gainers here from any of those tariff reductions are to the Japanese themselves. They bring down their cost of living and they get access to Australia's high quality beef, access to Australia's high quality wines and so forth. Well then they are far better off.
"This is important in terms of assessing where this whole FTA thing with Japan goes. Japan has set a precedent now that they're willing to start to negotiate lower barriers for agricultural products. The key thing is they have to undertake more structural change."
The proposed Australia-Japan FTA is a step along that path of structural reform. Hopefully, more will follow quickly. Those who have followed the history of Australian beef exports to Japan – our biggest market – know that there are often a couple of steps forward and one back.
And the agricultural reform is part of a much bigger challenge of social restructuring. More important than a few more tonnes of cheese or a (passing) beef price advantage over other imports is the long-term health of the Japanese economy and regional stability.
Abenomics holds out the hope of a more liberal economy while stepping backwards into greater nationalism and historical revisionism. It's not a good mix and one capable of tripping up Australian policy if we chose to identify too closely with Japan as "our best friend in Asia", as the Prime Minister has called it.
Then there's the matter of successfully marketing in Japan what we have to sell. Some Australians, such as the OBE organic beef group, have become very good at it, but it's as difficult a market as any, whatever the level of tariffs, one that requires patience, insight and diplomacy.
Anyone visiting the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo is likely to have walked past the wall of fine French wine barrels – access to the Japanese market is only the start.
Michael Pascoe is a Fairfax BusinessDay contributing editor.