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LDP ranks, like-minded lobbies rally against TPP

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

About 120 members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party joined major lobby groups for a rally Thursday to oppose participation in the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks, stepping up pressure on the Abe administration to maintain barriers on sensitive items in the farming, fishing and medical markets.

Almost twice as many Diet members showed up for this rally than a similar meeting last month. An association of LDP Diet members opposing the TPP now has 233 lawmakers, up from 203 last month, the rally organizer said.

Nineteen major lobby groups sent representatives to the rally, including national associations from the agriculture, fishing, forestry, stock farming and sugar production industries as well as organizations of medical doctors, dentists and pharmacists. All have long served as powerful vote-gathering machines for the LDP.

“We’re really happy now that the LDP has come back to power,” said Koji Futada, chairman of the National Chamber of Agriculture.

When he was prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda of the Democratic Party of Japan made a strong push to join the TPP talks, now being held by 11 countries, but many LDP members are based in rural areas and have strong ties with the farming and fishing lobbies.

Futada claimed that the LDP was able to return to power in the December general election due to support from farmers worried about the TPP.

“We are promoting anti-(TPP) campaigns believing the TPP could destroy not only agriculture but also the entire country,” Futada said.

Doctors, dentists and pharmacists oppose participation in the TPP talks out of fear that the U.S. would try to force Japan to deregulate and thereby destroy the public medical insurance system.

They argue that liberalizing the medical sector would create a society where only the wealthy will be able to receive the best care and the less well-off will have to settle for less.

However, it appears not all 233 strongly oppose the TPP.

“Many have registered their names on the list just because supporters (in their home districts) asked them to do so,” a senior government official said.

An LDP policy research panel started looking Wednesday at TPP issues. Chairman Seishiro Eto reportedly expressed his intention to compile some party policies before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s planned meeting with President Barack Obama later this month.

On Thursday, Abe told the Lower House Budget Committee that he will keep the LDP’s campaign pledge that said the party will oppose Japan’s participation in the TPP talks if the country is required to accept unconditional tariff elimination.

The nation’s major industry groups, particularly those involved in manufacturing and exporting, want Japan in on the TPP talks soon in order to ensure the nation retains its competitive edge. Obama has also been pushing for Japan’s entry.