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Japan unlikely to wrap up TPP deal by year-end

JIJI

Japan is unlikely to wrap up domestic ratification procedures for an envisaged Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact by the end of the year after the 12 negotiation member states failed to reach a broad agreement at ministerial talks in Hawaii late last month.

With the schedule for a next ministerial meeting still up in the air, the government will likely face an uphill battle to obtain Diet approval for the regional free trade deal during an expected extraordinary session in the autumn.

With the procedures likely dragging on into next year’s planned ordinary session — or even later — some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have voiced concerns over the potential negative impact the TPP issue could have on next summer’s Upper House election.

In a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday, Akira Amari, the minister in charge of TPP talks, reported the results of the Hawaii meeting.

Amari told reporters that the 12 countries will set the schedule for the next ministerial meeting after making arrangements to resolve outstanding issues. However, he indicated difficulty in holding the next gathering by this month’s end.

The government and the LDP had pinned their hopes on a broad TPP deal at last month’s ministerial meeting as “the last chance” for Japan to complete its ratification procedures during the anticipated extra Diet session, a government source said.

This was because U.S. President Barack Obama must inform Congress of the conclusion of TPP negotiations 90 days before he signs a TPP treaty.

If a broad accord among the 12 TPP nations is delayed into early September, his signing would also have to wait until early December.

The Japanese government would introduce the TPP treaty and legislation to ratify it to the Diet after the U.S. and other countries sign the treaty.

Usually, the Japanese government is busy in early December, as it is near the end of an extra parliamentary session and just ahead of the full-fledged budget compilation period for the next fiscal year.

In addition, opposition parties, including the Democratic Party of Japan, hope to secure time to debate the TPP, making it difficult for any quick ratification of the deal.

“It is impossible to finish the procedures during an extra parliamentary session,” an LDP lawmaker with strong links to agricultural issues said.

Even if the TPP procedures are to be handled at next year’s ordinary Diet session, discussions on the matter are unlikely to begin until April, after the fiscal 2016 budget is enacted.

Further complicating matters, opposition parties are also likely to ramp up attacks on the ruling camp ahead of the Upper House election.

Initially, the LDP-led government hoped to finish the ratification process in autumn and announce key steps to cushion the domestic impact of the TPP deal that would be financed under the fiscal 2016 budget.

This scenario, however, has becoming less likely, sources familiar with the situation said.

A senior LDP official said that the ratification procedures should not be done just before the election, suggesting that they may be delayed until autumn of next year or even later.

At the Hawaii ministerial meeting, the 12 nations failed to narrow their differences on thorny issues such as a protection period for development data on cutting-edge biotechnology-based drugs and further trade liberalization for dairy products.

Amari said that the next meeting will not be held until the 12 countries are confident that they can reach a broad deal, suggesting that it could take time to resolve the remaining issues.