With a new Republican Congress, and Obama himself a Republican who occasionally wears Democratic clothing, the Administration is making noise that the TransPacific Partnership and its ugly sister, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, are moving forward in a serious way.
But the Administration tried that sort of messaging last year to keep up a sense of inevitability about these regulation-gutting, mislabeleed trade deals, when reality was very different. So where do things stand?
Yves here. Readers asked our Japan-watcher Clive for his take on the snap election in Japan, where voting takes place this Sunday. Contrary to the norm for Japanese politics, there may be less here than meets the eye. In addition, Clive provides an update on Japanese media and official statements on the TransPacific Partnership negotiations.
In case you managed to miss it, there’s been a fair bit of hand-wringing over the fact that Japan has fallen back into a recession despite the supposedly heroic intervention called Abenomics, whose central feature was QE on steroids.
But Japan of all places should know that relying on the wealth effect to spur growth has always bombed in the long term.
As someone old enough to have done finance in the Paleolithic pre-personal computer era (yes, I did financial analysis using a calculator and green accountant’s ledger paper as a newbie associate at Goldman), investor expectations that market liquidity should ever and always be there seem bizarre, as well as ahistorical. Yet over the past month or two, there has been an unseemly amount of hand-wringing about liquidity in the bond market, both corporate bonds, and today, in a Financial Times story we’ll use as a point of departure, Treasuries.
These concerns appear to be prompted by worries about what happens if (as in when) bond investors get freaked out by the Fed finally signaling it is really, no really, now serious about tightening and many rush for the exits at once. The taper tantrum of summer 2013 was a not-pretty early warning and the central bank quickly lost nerve. The worry is that there might be other complicating events, like geopolitical concerns, that will impede the Fed’s efforts at soothing rattled nerves, or worse, that the bond market will gap down before the Fed can intercede (as if investors have a right to orderly price moves!).
Let’s provide some context to make sense of these pleas for ever-on liquidity.
Yves here. We’ve been giving regular updates, with the considerable help of our man in Japan Clive, on how the the prospects for Japan signing up for the TransPacific Partnership look extremely slim. Mind you, “extremely slim” is not impossible, but the reason we deem the probability to be that low is that the Administration appears unwilling to bargain at all, let alone offer Japan some critical and large concessions that it requires to sign up. And since Japan is a linchpin to the entire deal, if Japan is a no-go, you can kiss the TransPacific Partnership goodbye.
These TransPacific Partnership discussions have also given yours truly, and even more so our real expert Clive, the opportunity to do some cross-cultural translating, which I personally enjoy. The Japanese are a sufficiently alien culture that you are forced to suspend or retrain your assumptions about how things work. So to watch the US Trade Representative, which along with the State Department, ought to be a US agency particularly attuned to how Japan needs special handling, instead do the equivalent of repeatedly step on a rake and get smacked in the face, is entertaining in a perverse way. How can they NOT know that what they are doing is counterproductive? And how can they NOT course correct when it should be obvious that what they are doing isn’t working?
However, even though, as we have discussed, the USTR has acted in a way almost guaranteed to offend the Japanese, the government has reasons for being cool on the TransPacific Partnership yet having to feign otherwise. And they aren’t terribly mysterious either, even though they do vary with US baseline assumptions.
In the wake of the Republican trouncing of the feckless Democrats in the midterm elections, there’s been an upsurge of calls of alarm on both the right and the left that the Administration and its big business allies in both parties will try to push the toxic trade deal known as the TransPacific Partnership through. That is in part due to Administration messaging that the talks are gaining momentum, as Obama asserted a mere two days ago. But not only do the negotiations appear to be going nowhere, but the Administration appears to be losing clout in the region as China is playing a considerably shrewder trade and investment game.
As readers may recall, we declared the toxic, national-sovereignty-gutting, misnamed “trade” deal called the TransPacific Partnership to be dead based on America’s colossal mishandling of Japan (not that it has handled the other prospective signatories any better, mind you). The pact was designed to be an “everybody but China” grouping, a centerpiece of Obama’s pivot to Asia. Japan’s participation is essential to meeting that objective, as well as to another critical objective: that of getting major nations to sign up to agreements that subordinated national regulations to the profit-making rights of foreign investors, who could sue governments over any incursions in secretive, conflicted arbitration panels.
Nevertheless, meetings on the TransPacific Partnership continue, with the latest round in Sydney last week. The US press is depicting the Japanese as bad guys who can be browbeaten into giving up protecting their beef and rice farmers, among others. Is that likely to happen?
Last week, I came across an article in Japan Times which gave the impression that the TransPacific Partnership was being revived from the dead. From the article:
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has a “strong intention” to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks by the end of the year, TPP minister Akira Amari said Friday as the U.S. pork lobby pressured Japan to make concessions, but added that the free trade deal cannot be struck without a commitment from all sides.
But is this a real commitment, or mere Japanese conflict-avoidance?
As readers may know, the mislabeled trade deal known as the TransPacific Partnership hasn’t looked like it has great odds of being consummated. But the Administration has been browbeating Japan, and has also been talking of breakthroughs in negotiations. Has the dynamic changed?
Earlier this week, the Nikkei Asian Review published At odds with US, Japan reaches out to other TPP partners. The title would lead you to believe Japan is working with other countries to strengthen opposition to the toxic, mislabeled trade deal known as the TransPacific Partnership.
The text of the article suggests otherwise, that Japan’s prime minister Abe will feel compelled to offer some concessions when Obama visits next month. On the surface, that would represent a significant shift.