Is Momentum Building in Japan Towards Signing the TransPacific Partnership?

We keep seeing worrisome sightings that the Abe government might finally be overcoming considerable internal resistance to having Japan join the TransPacific Partnership, such as

Now as Naked Capitalism readers know, the Japanese government has made pronouncements of the “Yes, we are making real progress” or ” A deal is just around the corner” sort, and yet a consummation of the TransPacific Partnership appeared to be as remote as ever. However, just because Japan and the US have regularly resorted to the well-honed negotiating technique of trying to create the impression of momentum, it does not necessarily follow that the Japanese government isn’t managing to move closer to cinching a deal. So we decided to check in with our Japan-based reader of tea leaves Clive. His reaction to the question of whether the TransPacific Partnership seemed to be moving forward:

In a word, no. There’s been nothing whatsoever from official sources (in the Japanese government) that I can find. And in the Japanese press, all I’ve seen is the now familiar reiteration of the well-known inabilities of congresscritters to do anything much in a bipartisan fashion. That, plus the usual boilerplate from Prime Minister Abe about being in sight of turning the final corner on the TPP home straight (or one of his other equally wobbly metaphors).

Where the fast track is covered in the Japanese press, it continues to tell the same story of how Japan is unwilling to make its “best and final offers” without that authority being in place. This original article and its conclusions, especially this section, got recited and quoted quite widely:

Meanwhile, TPP chief negotiators are preparing to meet in Hawaii from 9-15 March, with the gathering expected to set the stage for a potentially crucial trade ministers’ meeting sometime in the weeks following.

The apparent TPA delay could have implications for the TPP timeline, some observers and officials say, given that some of the US’ TPP partners may not be willing to make their most difficult trade concessions until having clear assurances that a final deal will be approved, without changes, in the US Congress.

“The Japanese also made it clear they do not want to make final offers until Congress passes Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), adding to the need for us to act quickly on this effort,” said Representative Adrian Smith, a Republican from the US state of Nebraska who participated in a recent congressional delegation to Asia.

Assuming Smith is being accurately quoted, the Japanese negotiators wouldn’t have been so explicit in their comments to Rep. Smith if they hadn’t wanted to a) send an unambiguous message to the U.S. and b) make it clear that is most likely Japan’s official negotiating position. This method of signalling your intentions via an intermediary but not being too in-yer-face about it is a classic Japanese manoeuvre.

My best guess is, that with the Hawaii round of the TPP negotiations in progress, there’s going to be leaks and briefings from the USTR in an attempt at establishing a momentum play, but read these with skepticism until they’re even vaguely corroborated by corresponding noises from Japan. It would be unusual behaviour for the Japanese to row back after setting up such careful prior positioning.

Yves again. While the idea that the TransPacific Partnership is now stuck in idle in Japan is comforting news, that does not mean that American voters can afford to relent as far as opposing this toxic pact is concerned. If you need to refresh your memory about the many problems with it, check this post. Then call your Senators (numbers here) and your Representative (number here) and tell them why you expect them to vote no.

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  1. anonymous123

    Thanks for putting the call to action at the end. I hope it encourages more citizens to voice their opinion on the issue!

  2. wbgonne

    I continue to be alarmed by Obama’s propaganda that the U.S. has never lost an investor panel arbitration case. I think this distortion may have an inordinate impact on the debate because it is simplistic and emotional. I have read this and related NK posts criticizing the Administration’s maneuvers but, frankly, I’m not sure that is adequate. One suggestion might be to present a list of national policy actions that the American people might be precluded from taking under TPP. (This is a suggestion not an assignment.) I think that as long as matters remain abstract, the Administration’s we-never-lose propaganda has a jingoistic appeal that can neutralize the national sovereignty objections to TPP.

  3. participant-observer-observed

    If it is empty hype then the next question is: who is the intended audience if not the Japanese?

    I have heard that TPP is getting favorable play in Taiwan vis-a-vis dynamics with mainland. But Taiwan’s farmers are a strong sector with sentiments similar to Japan especially when it comes to rice.

    Thanks for keeping an eye on this and yes, we need to follow up with representatives. Many reps are supposedly home for break and MoveOn for example is calling on people to visit the local offices of reps to register opposition to TPP and fast track.

  4. qufuness

    The TPP and its ugly step sister (to borrow Yves’ image) came up recently during dinner with a former Japanese Diet member and a German friend. Both felt that on some level the US was pressuring their countries to decide whether to be “with us or agin us.” But as the Japanese politician pointed out, America is a friend, while Korea and China are family. Can Japan join a “trade” bloc that so clearly excludes its largest trading partner?

    No Japanese I’ve talked to here in Tokyo has expressed enthusiasm for TPP. At most there’s qualified hope, at worst unalloyed loathing. Sure, 0.1% of Japanese may make scads of money if the deal ever goes through, but what’s in it for Japan as a whole? What does the country get from bartering away its sovereignty and aligning against its close neighbor and largest trade partner?

    1. Clive

      Yes, no-one I’ve spoken to who I’d classify as “ordinary” Japanese can see anything for Japan in the TPP. Trying to keep in with the U.S. seems to be the best explanation anyone can suggest for why the Japanese government got embroiled in it. While it might further some foreign policy aims, these are highly questionable as even Japanese big business sees little to gain by pee’ing off China (which by having a pretty much explicit aim of “being a counterbalance to China in the region” the TPP inevitably does).

  5. Brooklin Bridge

    Many thanks to Clive as well as to Yves for insightful analysis and for not letting up on this. This is a case like net neutrality where it is truly worth putting in the effort required for grass roots actions to have an effect.

    These intellectual property theft frameworks and stealth attacks on representative government larded up to look like trade agreements seem from the POV of the average citizen – such as myself – to have absolutely nothing of value even for the targeted governments, never mind for their respective citizens. As has been pointed out many times here on NC, these deals have little or nothing to do with trade facility; rather, they are massive transfers of power from governments to corporations. A question that keeps coming up for me is why in the world would any country other than the hopelessly corrupt US sign such crazy treaties dismantling their own sovereignty and further impoverishing their own people?

    Has the world really achieved such a profound international level of corruption that there are simply no governments left that are not willingly or unwillingly locked at least into the orbit of this oligarchical suicide pact? Japan, for instance, is resisting but is clearly still under the influence of a strong pull in favor and it may be one of the few if not only cases of serious resistance by a major economic player.

  6. Chauncey Gardiner

    Dang!… the Japanese are insisting on “Fast Track”! Why didn’t I think of that? How remarkably convenient. And “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.”

    So they’re running the same playbook with which we are now quite familiar. Besides obfuscation and diversion, we can expect a full court press of propaganda and persuasion, if not outright deception.

    What are the primary objectives of this agreement, again?… Of course, we don’t know and we won’t know because it’s a big secret until the timing is “critical”. But you can bet that sovereignty and democracy are being further impaired in the name of “Trade”.

  7. flora

    ” …some of the US’ TPP partners may not be willing to make their most difficult trade concessions until having clear assurances that a final deal will be approved, without changes, in the US Congress.”
    A reference to Sen. Cotton and others’ letter to Iran?

    Meanwhile, across the pond… Britain wants to join the Chinese infrastructure investment bank AIIB:

    The US is apparently not pleased by this development.

  8. Winston Smith

    Well if Abe and his party ever want to get elected again, they should probably vote against Abe. If I remember correctly the LDP gets a lot of support from farmers and related people in Japan. When I was last in Japan, there were more “No TPP’ signs than any other sign in the country side around my wife’s parent’s home in the Kansai region.

    So Abe may only be offering lip service and/or another case where the Western devils still can’t figure out Japanese nuances.

    1. Clive

      Definitely. The LDP depends on two main pillars for support: 1) industrial conglomerates (for financial support, and it’s not, ah-hem, entirely unknown for this to be of the under-the-counter financial kind for LDP politicians who find it hard to live on the official salary) and, perhaps more importantly 2) rural votes since while the money oils the wheels of politics (in Japan as elsewhere), it doesn’t actually directly elect anyone.

      Agricultural subsidies serve to prop up not just farmers but entire rural communities a lot of which would face utter decimation with this support — TPP makes it much, much harder (and I’d say almost impossible) to keep this system going. Rural communities are suffering disproportionately from the structural issues affecting Japan — especially depopulation — so without subsidies many will be completely unviable.

  9. C

    When speaking to your reps and senators you should also be prepared for the stonewall of “hypotheticals.” When I spoke recently to one of my senators his aide kept firmly asserting that all news about the TPP is “speculative” since it is not final. He assured me that the Senator “would not support a bill that would be bad for America” but by the same token displayed a, perhaps deliberate, ignorance of all public reporting on the negotiations and even asserted that Senators cannot see the draft text at all.

    I found it pointless which was probably the goal of the aide in question.

  10. Blue Guy Red State

    Rep. Smith ( serves the 3rd District of Nebraska which contains most – not all – of Nebraska’s farmers and especially ranchers. He’s a handy weathervane for Big Ag as well as the powerful farm and ranch lobby in general.

    TPP is being pimped as good for Midwest ag products ( which is likely to produce GOP and Democratic votes in favor from rural areas, despite the fact that TPP favors large corporate ag over all other ag sectors.

    The GOP’s hatred of Obama may save us from TPP though – Ag Secretary Vilsack is pushing Congress to grant Trade Promotion Authority for Obama (fast track) which seems highly unlikely unless Congress’ farm and ranch (and Big Ag) are pushing them to approve it.

    Should be a good scrap. More fighting = more news = more resistance to this pig in a poke.


    1. C

      I sure as hell hope you are right. So far I’ve found my R legislators far more in favor of this thing than the D’s. The D’s at least have to come up with excuses for their support while Rs such as Burr seem to be insulted that I had the temerity to actually call.

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