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Abe goes toe-to-toe over TPP as Diet debate heats up

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Brushing off recalcitrant opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday reiterated in the Diet his determination to swiftly ratify the multinational trade pact.

This year’s extraordinary Diet session kicked off Monday, with the wrap-up expected as early as the end of November.

In what became the first parliamentary faceoff with the opposition after his sweeping victory in the Upper House election in July, Abe touted the TPP as “pivotal” to Japan’s economic growth.

“The global community is monitoring with high expectations how we will discuss the bill” to ratify the TPP, he said. “We must pass it during this Diet session.”

Abe’s comments were in response to questions by Yoshihiko Noda, the former prime minister who was recently tapped as secretary-general of the main opposition Democratic Party.

Noda said that with the U.S. Congress opposed to the current deal, there is “no reason for us to hasten its ratification.”

Noda also said the government’s effort to strike a deal with the U.S. and other Pacific Rim economies last October ended in failure for Japan, pointing out that the five “sacred” product categories, including rice, beef and wheat, did not survive the negotiations unscathed despite initial promises that Abe would not bend on those sectors.

The deal will also cost Japan’s auto industry dearly, he said.

“We have no option but to oppose the current deal that has failed to protect what is supposed to be protected,” Noda charged.

His strong opposition to the deal is strategic and part of an effort by the struggling DP, which recently attempted a make-or-break image overhaul by electing Renho as its first female president, to differentiate itself from the Abe-led Liberal Democratic Party and therefore assert its position in the Diet.

On Tuesday, the DP pounced on the revelation by the Foreign Ministry that the Japanese version of TPP documents contained a smattering of translation errors.

Kazunori Yamanoi, the DP’s Diet affairs chief, reportedly said that because of those errors, Diet deliberations on the TPP from earlier this year should be thrown out.

Abe flatly rejected Noda’s accusation, maintaining that his administration successfully yielded the “best possible results” out of very tough negotiations.

Noting the government made sure the U.S. would eliminate tariffs on more than 80 percent of auto parts imported from Japan, Abe insisted that the pact will contribute greatly to the nation’s interests.

“All we have to do now is make a decision” to ratify the pact, he said.

Abe also rebuffed as nonsense Noda’s call that the LDP scrap its 2012 draft Constitution before kicking off Diet debate on constitutional revision.

Critics accuse the LDP draft of prioritizing public order over individual rights and scaling up the country’s military capabilities to degrees reminiscent of pre-World War II.

“The important thing is for each party to come to the debate with their own ideas. My party has presented its proposals in the draft. … Why don’t you present your own version so we can segue into constructive discussions?” Abe told Noda.

Meanwhile, Noda lambasted the sputtering Abenomics economic policy mix, saying most growth-inducing “arrows” unleashed by the program — such as vows to reinvigorate regional economies and entice more women into the workforce — have proved “too weak to reach their targets.”

Claiming that the negative interest rate pushed by the Bank of Japan has hurt financial institutions, Noda urged Abe to persuade the central bank to scrap that policy.

Abe, however, stressed it has successfully helped reduce borrowing costs for companies and households.