Early Diet approval of TPP in doubt as political calendar booked up


The government is unlikely to secure Diet approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact this year after the agreement took so long to broker, sources have said.

Lawmakers will be preoccupied with budget debates when they reconvene in 2016, and once the new fiscal year begins the political calendar will be taken up with next summer’s Upper House election.

Japan and 11 partners struck a deal on Monday after marathon talks in Atlanta on the TPP, which includes protections for intellectual property and the removal or reduction of tariffs on a wide range of goods.

The government and the Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition will start procedures needed to obtain Diet approval. But as Diet approval looks nearly impossible this year, some ruling lawmakers are calling for delaying TPP-related domestic procedures until after the Upper House election next summer.

At a meeting Tuesday, the secretaries-general of the LDP and its coalition partner, Komeito, confirmed that the two parties will work closely with the government on TPP-related procedures.

The government and the ruling bloc initially aimed to convene an extraordinary Diet session this autumn to finish the procedures and enact related TPP bills within the year.

But delays in reaching agreement on details of the TPP accord makes it unlikely that U.S. President Barack Obama will sign it any earlier than December. Japan will be able to begin its domestic procedures only after that.

Given the delay, some ruling lawmakers are questioning whether to hold an extraordinary parliamentary session this year.

“It seems likely that procedures to gain Diet approval will be delayed until early next year,” Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi told reporters Tuesday.

The government and ruling bloc will consider convening an ordinary Diet session in early January, earlier than usual, if there is no extraordinary session.

That ordinary session is currently expected to focus on the state budget for fiscal 2016, which begins April 1. TPP procedures will then likely extend into April or later, coming close to the Upper House election.

As concerns mount over the TPP’s impact on the local agricultural sector, the opposition is expected to grill the ruling camp in the hope of making agriculture an election campaign issue.

Some ruling coalition members propose setting up special Diet committees to handle the TPP before the budget debates. But in this scenario, it would be difficult to secure Diet approval of the budget before the end of the current fiscal year on March 31.

The opposition camp, meanwhile, wants an early start to an extraordinary Diet session.

Democratic Party of Japan President Katsuya Okada told reporters Tuesday that the government and the ruling bloc had a duty to explain the TPP deal.

Masato Imai, secretary-general of opposition party Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) has asked for early Diet debates, either at an extraordinary session or special in-recess meetings.



The South Korean finance minister has said Seoul is examining the possibility of joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, according to the nation’s Yonhap News Agency.

“Due administrative process and public hearings will be held to reach a decision on joining the multilateral Asia-Pacific free trade region,” Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan was quoted as telling lawmakers at a parliamentary audit Tuesday.

The remarks by Choi, who doubles as deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs, came after the United States, Japan and 10 other nations reached agreement Monday on the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative, a bloc that would cover around 40 percent of the global economy.

It has given rise to concerns in South Korea that the country’s exporters may face stiffer competition from Japanese rivals, whose products would become cheaper in the U.S. market after the TPP goes into effect.

Choi declined to give details, stressing that the negotiations involve partners who may not want information related to the talks divulged.

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il said South Korea “will actively consider joining the TPP in such a way to maximize national interests.”

Noh noted that South Korea was an active participant in regional economic integration endeavors, including a three-way free trade agreement being forged with China and Japan. It is also taking part in the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which links the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations with six Asia-Pacific countries that have free trade arrangements with ASEAN, including Japan and Australia.

He said South Korea will make a final decision on the TPP after examining the possible impact in public hearings and reports to the parliament.