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
— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) March 13, 2015
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.