Japan joined the July 23-25 session of talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade scheme in Kota Kinabaru, Malaysia. The TPP talks are unusual in that participating countries are obliged to maintain strict confidentiality concerning the content of negotiations.
It was not until Japan joined the Kota Kinabaru session that it was able to learn in detail what has been discussed in past sessions. Chief negotiator Mr. Koji Tsuruoka had to sign a contract under which Japan promised to strictly uphold confidentiality. Only after this were Japanese negotiators allowed to read documents describing the content of past discussions.
In view of the nature of the TPP talks, it will be extremely important that the government refrain from deciding whether it will sign the TPP accord before letting the public know about key points of the agreement. It should fully understand the fears that people harbor about the TPP with regard to possible harmful impacts on Japan’s farm industry and communities, the safety of imported agricultural and industrial products, the national health insurance system and social policies including environmental protection, and the finance-insurance sectors if there is a massive influx of U.S. firms into Japan.
Participants in the TPP talks think that tariffs should be eliminated for 90 to 95 percent of the items on which tariffs are now imposed as soon as the TPP scheme goes into effect. Japan has a total of some 9,000 such items.
Japan wants to retain tariffs on five categories of products — rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and agricultural products to make sugar — covering 586 items. Even if Japan abolishes tariffs on all of the items not falling into these five categories, the liberalization rate will be only 93.5 percent. It will be very difficult to fully protect the five product categories.
Documents that give details of discussions so far on the 21 fields covered by the TPP, including market access, intellectual property, government procurement, environment-related measures and labor rules, amount to more than 1,000 pages.
Japanese negotiators have to fully understand and finish analyzing the documents, then work out negotiation strategies before the next round of TPP talks is held in Brunei in late August. Their ability as trade negotiators will be tested.
TPP talks participants whose countries’ economies is not large are looking to Japan to serve as a countervailing influence to that of the United States, a leading player. Japan should consider in what areas it can form a united front with such participants as it seeks to gain an advantage in the talks.
Within respecting confidentiality, the Japanese government and various organizations must do their utmost to make as much TPP information public as possible. The government must fulfill its duty of accountability to people by explaining what it will protect at any cost during the TPP talks and where it may have to give ground. It must not keep the people in the dark when making a final decision.