Whether Japan should join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade scheme is one of the main issues in the coming Upper House election. If Japan becomes a member of the TPP, it will greatly impact agriculture and other industries, and people’s lives. Deplorably, political parties are talking about the TPP only in the general terms of whether they support or oppose it. They should present the TPP’s merits and demerits in a clear-cut and detailed manner so that voters can be fully informed before passing judgment on it.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced in March that Japan will start a procedure to take part in negotiations for the TPP. But both the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner Komeito have neglected to show how the TPP will help promote Japan’s national interests.
The opposition forces are divided over the issue. The Japan Restoration Party and Your Party support Japan’s entry into the TPP. But like the LDP and Komeito, they have failed to demonstrate in concrete terms the merits of the TPP. The Democratic Party of Japan says that it will deal with the TPP with a stern attitude that does not exclude the possibility of Japan withdrawing from the TPP talks if necessary. But reflecting divided opinions within the party, the DPJ does not clearly say whether it supports or opposes the TPP. The Japan Communist Party, the People’s Life Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Green Wind oppose the TPP mainly because they think it will destroy Japan’s agriculture and local economies.
Many parties call for exempting tariffs on rice, wheat, pork and beef, dairy products and sugar from abolition, the principle tenet of the TPP. But they also should emphasize the importance of food security as well as the noneconomic values of Japanese agriculture, such as its role in protecting the environment as well as preserving traditional cultures and ways of living.
Political parties also should pay attention to the fact the TPP scheme covers trade rules in 21 fields including intellectual property, government procurement and the environment. Japan should not forget that the United States has a clear strategy on how to expand its interests in the finance and insurance sectors in the Japanese economy through the TPP arrangement Political parties should specifically address fears that the TPP may undermine Japan’s public health insurance system.
There is a possibility that environment-related rules may ban Japan from providing subsidies to help reconstruct devastated fishing ports in the Tohoku region and that government procurement-related rules may force Japan to allow overseas firms greater access to its market for public works projects.
It is odd that political parties talk very little about the TPP’s investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, which could enable global business enterprises to supersede decisions taken by Japanese central and local governments regarding environmental protection and social policy.
Political parties should make it clear to people that the TPP is not just a traditional free trade agreement but could very well topple Japanese business practices and social policy arrangements that they have long taken for granted.