Meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Phnom Penh on Nov. 20, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda expressed a desire to accelerate talks to settle certain bilateral trade issues so that Japan can begin negotiations on entering the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade zone.
Mr. Noda has already decided to include Japanese participation in the TPP talks in the Democratic Party of Japan’s manifesto for the Dec. 16 Lower House election and to make it an election issue. The DPJ leadership says it will not recognize as candidates on the DPJ ticket those who oppose Japan’s participation in the TPP talks.
It is regrettable that the government has not provided sufficient information about the TPP even though people continue to raise questions and fears about it. Voters should not cast their ballots Dec. 16 without being fully informed, since the TPP is expected to drastically change the way Japan trades and does business. Thus it will have a great impact on the nation’s social and economic fabric. The TPP is not only about the elimination of tariffs. There is much talk about how to protect or grow Japan’s agricultural sector if Japan joins the TPP. Agriculture, though important, is only one of the issues related to the TPP.
At present, it is unclear whether Japan can join the TPP negotiations since the U.S. automotive industry has opposed the inclusion of Japan. The industry argues that Japanese automotive regulations have impeded the penetration of foreign cars into the Japanese market.
But Mr. Noda appears to think that following his re-election, Mr. Obama does not have to worry much about pressure from domestic industries, that the U.S.-led negotiations on the TPP will accelerate and that Japan should not lose this timely chance to join the negotiations. He also hopes that Japan’s participation in the TPP talks will strengthen its ties with the U.S. at a time when Japan’s ties with China have plummeted due to the dispute over Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Mr. Noda has not yet been able to clearly show what benefits the TPP would bring Japan. The U.S. is pushing negotiations on the TPP with the ultimate goal of making TPP participants accept business standards that are advantageous to American companies. The U.S. has a clear idea of the Japanese business sectors into which it wants to expand its interests.
Unfortunately, Japan does not have comparable goals, making for a rather weak negotiating position. In addition, there are concerns in Japan that the TPP’s Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision will supersede domestic political decisions and institutions in the areas of consumer safety, medical services, social welfare, environmental protection, etc. The government is obliged to explain how the ISDS operates as well as other TPP matters.
A move on the part of Japan to enter the TPP talks without fully addressing people’s fears and concerns would be a betrayal of their trust. The government should clearly explain what benefits and risks the TPP would bring Japan.