Vote by U.S. Congress stokes hope for TPP progress in July

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

With the U.S. Congress formally granting President Barack Obama trade promotion authority, proponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement in Japan are hoping at least the broad outlines of a bilateral deal for agriculture and auto parts may be worked out when negotiations resume in July.

But with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government losing popular support over its attempt to ram through controversial security bills, and distracted by inter-party squabbling over comments made by Abe allies last week against media outlets that do not toe the government line, any agreement still faces numerous political hurdles.

As details of the negotiations remain secret, nobody knows what the leaders of the 12 nations involved in the TPP negotiations will finally agree to and present to the public.

“There’s great concern about the secrecy of the negotiation process in the farm lobby. In addition to agriculture, the medical, insurance, and pharmaceutical industries in Japan remain very worried about the impact of a TPP agreement,” said Hironori Sasada, a professor at Hokkaido University and an expert on local government politics and farm policy.

In addition, TPP negotiations include copyright issues. Sasada notes the Japanese entertainment and publishing industries, like manga publishers, realize they could be highly affected by the TPP. And, of course, there is the investor-state dispute (ISD) mechanism, which strengthens the ability of international corporations to challenge national laws they don’t like.

“The Japanese government’s position on ISD, which seems to be part of the negotiations, is unclear and at this point no one knows for sure whether it will be included or not in the final agreement,” Sasada said.

AM Net, an Osaka nongovernmental organization that opposes the TPP, has long been concerned about the secrecy around the negotiations.

Last week, following the decision by U.S. Congress to approve trade promotion authority (also known as fast-track authority) for Obama, AM Net issued a statement calling on the Japanese government to be more transparent about the negotiation process, and for the negotiation text to be publicly released.

“The government says that it’s necessary to maintain secrecy for diplomatic negotiations and that each country needs to guard its own secrets. But there needs to be more transparency,” said Kaori Takeda, an AM Net representative.

Her group is calling on the Abe government to hold town-hall meetings and dialogues on the TPP throughout the country and to establish a special committee in the Diet to report on the negotiations.

Sasada and Takeda are split on whether or not the scandals of the past week might have any effect on TPP negotiations. Takeda sees them as a setback, while Sasada said that it was likely that the JA Zenchu agricultural lobby struck a deal with the Abe government earlier this year.