Defend Japan’s interests in TPP talks

It is almost certain that Japan will join the talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade scheme as the 11 countries now involved in the talks have reached a broad agreement to accept Japan’s participation.

Because it will take the U.S. Congress at least 90 days to approve the decision, Japan cannot begin taking part in the talks until late July. The earliest possible date is July 24.

The public should know that Japan will be negotiating from a very weak position. Because it is a latecomer to the talks, Japan must accept the terms already agreed upon by the 11 other participants. Japan also cannot view detailed reports on how previous TPP talks proceeded. Thus it will join the TPP talks without the government being able to fully explain the merits and demerits of becoming a TPP member.

The TPP could greatly change the economic and social fabric of Japan since it covers 21 fields including government procurement, competition policy, labor standards, intellectual property, financial service, investment, telecommunications and environmental standards.

Some people worry that the TPP could undermine Japan’s national health insurance system and other public policies. As the government has been reluctant to address these points, informed public discussions on these matters have not taken place.

It has become clear that Japan made great concessions in its preliminary talks with the United States to facilitate Congress’ approval of Japan’s TPP participation. Japan, which hopes that its car industry will benefit from the TPP, wanted the U.S. to remove its tariffs on passenger cars and trucks, which are 2.5 percent and 25 percent, respectively. But Japan eventually agreed to let the U.S. keep the tariffs.

Japan also wanted assurances that it could keep its high tariffs on rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and farm products to make sugar, but failed to get them. Instead, Japan and the U.S. merely recognized that both countries have bilateral trade sensitivities — certain agricultural products for Japan and certain manufactured products for the U.S. Whether Japan can keep those tariffs depends on the outcome of the TPP negotiations.

Japan’s participation will likely greatly reduce its food self-sufficiency rate, but once again the government did nothing to encourage public discussions on this issue.

In addition, the U.S. is eager to expand its insurance business in Japan, and it appears that Japan has made a concession by agreeing not to approve the selling of cancer and other medical insurance policies by Japan Post Insurance Co. for several years.

Clearly Japan has been placed in a disadvantageous position. Apart from the Japan-U.S. agreements, the TPP includes an Investor-State Dispute Settlement procedure, which could enable overseas enterprises to override Japan’s policies on such matters as environmental protection and public health insurance.

The government should enter the talks with a strong resolve to protect Japan’s vital interests and not cave into pressure from the U.S. and other trade partners. If it finds that the TPP will not enhance the people’s quality of life, it should have the courage to withdraw from the talks.

  • antony

    It is difficult to see how joining the TPP will better the farmers/growers position. One of the pleasures of living in Japan is having access to very high-quality local produce (fruit, vegetables, legumes) that has been cultivated to a high standard and sold at fair prices. It is very worrying that many of these skilled family-run producers may dwindle in numbers and their produce will eventually disappear.

    At the very least, a referendum could have been tabled before signing on the dotted line. Fate has been stealthily taken out of the hands of the people who will be impacted hardest.

  • Puddintain

    Japan is the one responsible for joining at a late date, is it not? It could have joined much earlier, couldn’t it?

    Everyone expects Japan to defend what it believes to be its interests. One of those interests will be the rice market and other agricultural areas. We can expect Japan to press for the liberalization of foreign markets in areas in which it has the competitive advantage, and oppose opening its markets in areas in which it is inefficient. It has been this way for 30-odd years, and one of the reasons some of the other participating countries were skeptical about letting Japan in at this late date.

    Interestingly, I speak to folks in internationally competitive industries who very much supported Japan joining TPP , because not to do so would result in Japan falling further behind the rest of the world—paraphrasing their words.

    (Note the difference between that and those who seek to preserve small, inefficient often taxpayer subsidized farms which are run mostly by an ever shrinking group of part-time farmers. And note the differences between folks who are involved in internationally competing industries and those who write editorials that nearly no one reads, let alone listens to.)

    The quality of Japanese agricultural products. Well, this is subjective, but I remember 20 years ago when there was a difference in vegetables shipped to urban supermarkets, but not so much now if any, except in the same much higher prices in Japan, of course.Why does an ear of corn cost $3, but not taste as good as one that could be bought in some countries for $1?

    The bottom line is, if Japanese farm products are so much better, so superior, wouldn’t consumers continue to buy them without a group of bureaucrats deciding for us? How is protecting the rice market so that part-time farmers can continue in a subsidized industry beneficial to consumers? Wouldn’t increased—real—competition lead to more efficient farms in Japan? Couldn’t farmers figure out a way to be competitive and still provide superior quality? Or are they the new candlestick makers.

    It’s a fair point that Japan keeps the interest of all its citizens in mind, not just the special interests. If Japan does not believe that foreign companies should compete directly with Japanese companies domestically, then it should be prepared to accept the same restrictions on its companies internationally.

  • jazz350

    Joining the TPP will also force change in the health care and insurance system of Japan. The multi-national vultures will now descend on Japan and rake in the big bucks in this sector. IN Australia there is a strong movement against allowing insurance companies to set foot in their country for the same reason. Abe is selling out Japan by joining the TPP. It is much better to negotiate bi-lateral agreements rather than join a group at he eleventh hour as a mere bystander to be forced withe the rules that have been agreed in secrecy.

  • zer0_0zor0

    The 1500+ year-old terraced wet-paddy rice cultivation landscape and food self-sufficiency must be protected from American agribusiness, which is the most heavily subsidized agriculture sector on the planet.

  • Nicole Powers

    Why does Japan need to participate in TPP talks? Isn’t it just swallowing whatever has been agreed upon previously without knowing any specifics? Not even the US congress or the people of the United States knows what the multi-national corporations have insisted on in these “trade agreements”. One of these agreements is GMO. Seems like a raw deal to me and not in the best interests of the Japanese people.

  • Nicole Powers

    Even the US Congress does not know what is in the TPP agreements. Unfortunately, when this goes into effect in the US we (bio-citizens) will not be able to pass any laws without first getting TPP approval. This do-nothing Congress hasn’t been able to pass many bi-partician initiatives except the renaming of post offices now, how efficient will it become after passage of TPP. This is from the public citizen group in the US:

    “Just as your efforts are beginning to spotlight the threats of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a new plot is taking shape to railroad it into existence.

    If some in Washington, D.C., have their way, a dangerous Nixon-era power-grab procedure known as “Fast Track Trade Authority” could be revived to put the TPP into effect, leaving Congress and the public on the sidelines.

    At stake?

    Everything from your job to your dinner plate to your grandmother’s access to affordable medicine.

    Fast Track Trade Authority could undo all the work you’ve done talking to your leaders.

    As kids, we all learned about how the U.S. Constitution creates important checks and balances. Congress writes our laws and sets the terms of trade. The executive branch implements those laws and negotiates with foreign countries. That’s how it should be with
    the TPP.

    Sounds fair, right? It was.

    Richard Nixon thought otherwise and cooked up his Fast Track procedure, grabbing those powers from Congress and allowing the president to take over.

    From NAFTA to the WTO, Fast Track has produced
    some of the most damaging “trade” agreements. Part of the problem is 1970s technology being applied to a 21st century reality — when Nixon cooked up Fast Track, trade agreements really were mainly about trade.

    Now, as we know with the TPP, “trade” negotiations are the venue for corporations to rewrite large swaths of
    our vital consumer, environmental and other public interest safeguards behind closed doors.

    Congress’ last delegation of this extreme authority expired years ago. But some in Congress are ready to bring it back to life.

    At issue is nothing less than democratic accountable governance in this era of globalization.”