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Japan hoping to pressure U.S. to follow its lead on TPP

by

Staff Writer

Undeterred by vigorous opposition in the U.S. to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Abe administration expressed determination Friday to swiftly ratify the free trade agreement and pressure Washington to follow in its footsteps.

As Diet deliberations on the multinational deal kicked off, members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet reaffirmed their determination to pass a bill to ratify the pact before this legislative session ends Nov. 30.

“It is imperative Japan take the lead in approving the deal and create momentum within the U.S.,” Nobuteru Ishihara, minister in charge of economic revitalization, told a special Lower House committee on the TPP. “We need to steer America.”

Ishihara said the TPP will open Japan up to the possibility of new economic growth, billing it as a much-needed counterbalance to the nation’s rapidly graying domestic workforce.

The government estimates the deal will create 800,000 jobs and translate into a 2.5 percent annual rise in gross domestic product, or a whopping ¥14 trillion.

Noting that he is aware U.S. presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both strongly opposed to the pact, Ishihara pre-empted any possible request for renegotiation, underlining Abe’s position that Japan has “absolutely no intention” of accepting such a reversal.

“The TPP is like a delicate set of building blocks that is based on thorough discussions between the 12 countries involved. Withdraw one piece, and the whole thing will collapse,” Ishihara said.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida likewise stressed his commitment to winning Diet approval.

Such a progressive step by Japan, he said, would provide ammunition to ongoing efforts by President Barack Obama — who Kishida said has repeatedly proclaimed his pro-TPP stance in recent high-level international meetings — to convince the U.S. Congress of the need to ratify it by the end of his final term in January.

“At the moment, Japan-U.S. relations are very stable,” Kishida said. “Based on such a relationship of mutual trust, we have confirmed with each other that the swift entry into force of the pact is important and that we will cooperate to this end.”

Despite the lofty pledges, however, the Abe administration expects a tumultuous ride as it seeks to overcome staunch resistance to the TPP by the opposition bloc.

The Democratic Party has repeatedly made a point that it has no intention of accepting the pact, citing the opposition of Clinton and Trump.

“With two of the U.S. presidential nominees pretty unequivocally opposed to the deal, I don’t think Japan should hasten its discussion,” Renho, president of the DP, told reporters last month.

Adding to this is the recent revelation that some rice importers and wholesalers participating in a government auction program have engaged in price-rigging, which critics say will undercut the government’s position that an increase in rice imports under the TPP won’t adversely affect domestic farmers.

In a recent agriculture ministry probe into the matter, about 30 percent of 139 rice importers and wholesalers involved in the auction admitted they had cheated by exchanging what are euphemistically called “adjustment fees” with each other.

Such a practice may have allowed wholesalers to sell rice at a lower price than officially designated, potentially discrediting the government’s assertion that domestic and foreign rice is traded at equal prices.

The agricultural ministry, however, concluded in the probe that such shady money exchanges are unlikely to affect domestic rice prices, citing the scant amount of rice imported under the auction program that is circulated for commercial purposes.

The DP says it doesn’t buy that explanation and questions the veracity of the investigation.

“We need a fuller explanation and demand that the ministry disclose more detailed information,” Renho told reporters Thursday.