Don’t sell out Japan in TPP talks

Leaders of 12 countries participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations issued a statement in Bali on Tuesday that they will make efforts to conclude the negotiations by yearend.

The statement, issued after the meeting held on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, said in part, “We have agreed that negotiators should now proceed to resolve all outstanding issues with the objective of completing this year a comprehensive and balanced, regional agreement.” It also said that the participating countries were “on track” to complete the talks.

But the negotiations are so secretive that it is unknown to the public what has been discussed concerning trade rules in the 21 TPP fields, which include government procurement, competition policy, labor standards, intellectual property, financial service, investment, telecommunications and environmental standards.

The goal of U.S. President Barack Obama is to double U.S. exports and he hopes that achieving tangible results with the TPP scheme will give the Democratic Party enough of a boost to win the 2014 midterm congressional elections. The Abe administration is clearly rushing to complete the TPP talks in accordance with U.S. wishes. Regrettably Prime Minister Shinzo Abe does not clearly say how Japan benefits by hurriedly concluding the TPP talks.

It’s possible that Japan, while trying to hurriedly wrap up the negotiations, may make unnecessary concessions, thus jeopardizing its national interests. The Abe administration must fulfill its duty to the public by disclosing as much information as possible to increase the transparency of the talks. In a late September nationwide poll by the Japan Association of Public Opinion Research, 86 percent of respondents said that the government’s explanations are insufficient and 55 percent said that the government is hurrying too fast to conclude the talks.

It must not be forgotten that the TPP negotiations are not an ordinary set of trade talks. The TPP covers rules that will dictate how governments treat businesses. The government and people in Japan must be aware of how the TPP will affect their lives in such matters as food safety; extension of copyrights for literary and entertainment works including novels, movies and animation; stronger patents for newly developed drugs (which may lessen the availability of generic drugs); and simplification of visa procedures.

For example, there is scant information on what is being discussed with regard to 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 Liberal Democratic Party had promised to exclude rice, wheat, pork and beef, dairy products and agricultural products for making sugar from tariff abolition. But now the party is talking about agreeing to abolish tariffs on some items in these five categories. The party should realize that even discussing such an idea now will weaken Japan’s position in the negotiations.