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.