We have recently heard various voices on TPP issue from the ruling party and the Administration. As the Japan-US summit meeting is near at hand, the Abe Administration seems to gradually but steadily prepare for Abe’s official announcement of joining the TPP negotiation. It is my personal observation that the bottom line for the ruling LDP is to secure a freehand to conduct its policy to accelerate economic partnership once LDP wins the summer election. And accordingly, Mr. Abe is trying to raise the TPP issue as an important issue at the election. Otherwise he will be restrained after the election on. He needs enough time before the election to negotiate on exceptions of tariff abolition, to prepare measures for agriculture and other sensitive issues, and to placate oppositions such as farm sectors, medical sectors and etc.Unlike the former ruling party DPJ, present ruling party is better at holding its internal governance and now it is questionable whether its internal opposition group members of which represent majority of its seats at the Diet will keep steadfast position against TPP. The Abe Administration prevails over the party.Hoping my observation turns out wrong.
＜ Clippings from The Nikkei Newspaper ＞
A. Economic Minister, Motegi got the impression that the US would accept exceptions in tariff abolition in TPP negotiation.His comment was expressed at a press conference on 29 Jan.
B. The US seeks for continuous negotiation with Japan for more beef export.In response to Japan’s decision to ease the regulation of beef import from the US and Canada, USTR and USDA released a joint statement that the US welcomed Japan’s decision but would continue the negotiation to realize export of beef over the age of 30 months. (The new regulation allows beef import of the age of less than 30 months.)They pointed out that Japanese ambassador to the US had sent a letter to USTR saying that Japan would further ease import regulation for US beef to Japan.
Prime Minister Abe likely to seek for exceptions of tariff abolition when he visits with President Obama. In preparation for Mr. Abe’s meeting with Mr. Obama, Japanese government seeks for US consent to exceptions for tariff abolition on some sensitive items, so that Abe might persuade opposition groups and the public to join the TPP negotiation. In a TV program on 29 Jan, Mr. Abe confirmed that if Japan could secure national interest and materialize exceptions on tariff abolition, Japan would surely join the negotiation. He also clarified that he would not hide points at issue before the election in July.
３、 Feb. 4 edition:
An LDP executive member stated “Prime Minister Abe is unlikely to announce Japan’s participation in TPP when he visits the US,” while Minister of the State for Economic and Fiscal Policy Mr. AMari said “ TPP issue shall be raised in the Japan/US summit meeting and therefore, the government should get prepared.” Ms. Takaichi, the Chairperson of the Policy Affairs Research Council said on 3 Feb. that LDP recognizes that Japan is not ready to make an official announcement during Mr. Abe’s visit to the US. She further mentioned that as far as the government has not yet presented the estimated affect of TPP, the Diet cannot make any judgment. But, she added that it is the Cabinet that decides, not the party. On the other hand, Mr. Amari said on the same day that the government should prepare the official estimate of the magnitude of the affect of TPP ready for Mr. Abe’s visit to the US.
４、 Feb.6 edition:
A. Assistant USTR, Wendy Cutler to meet with his counterparts in Tokyo for the prior consultation. He is supposed to discuss and seek for the possible point of compromise on automobile and other sensitive issues before the Japan-US summit meeting.
B. The ruling LDP started its official meeting to discuss TPP. They held a meeting of its policy research section for diplomacy and economic partnership on 6 Feb. Many cautious voices on TPP were raised. Mr. Etoh, the chairperson of the meeting emphasized that they will get the idea in shape as a “policy” of the party by Mr. Abe’s departure for the US. (Below is from newspaper reports on the following day.) Concerns raised in the meeting one after another that there are more disadvantages than benefits in TPP and local communities will be seriously damaged. Ms. Takaichi, the Chairperson of the Council met with Mr. Etoh and confirmed that the “policy” should be a guideline only of the section of the Policy Affairs Research Council, not of LDP as a whole, and the guideline should not be the official agenda at the Executive Council which is the executive decision making body of LDP. There is a growing view point in LDP that objection to the non-exceptional tariff abolition will turn to be the approval of TPP participation if there are exceptions for tariff abolition, while participants in the internal group to demand immediate withdrawal from announcing the intention to participate in TPP negotiation are now 225 members exceeding the majority of the party members at the Diet.
C. Chinese frigate locked radar on Japanese naval vessel. A Chinese military frigate locked weapon-targeting radar on a Japanese naval vessel in an international water approx. a hundred km from the SENKAKU Islands or Nilycane Islands on 30 Jan. The radar was locked on the Japanese vessel approx. three km away from the Chinese frigate. Japanese government released the news on 6 Feb. after carefully collected evidences enough to make a strong protest to China.
The Pentagon made a statement demanding China to restrain itself from raising further tension in the area. (Below is from newspaper reports on the following days.) US government regarded as questionable that Chinese government took no account of repeated US requests to China to stop further provocation, and demanded self-restraint and full explanation directly. China only responded that they would conduct investigation. Now China has started criticizing Japan for increasing tensions by releasing false information and stated they had only used precautionary radar.
５、 Feb.9 and 10 edition:
Prime Minister Abe likely to announce Japan’s participation in TPP negotiation as early as next month. Mr. Abe replied at the budget committee of the House of Representatives, “It is necessary to directly find out at the meeting with President Obama whether the non-exceptional tariff abolition is the precondition for joining the TPP negotiation prior to final decision making. It will be a very important issue at the meeting.” The Abe Administration seems to seek for a parallel negotiation of Japan/US prior consultation and participation in the TPP negotiation. Mr. Abe needs to announce the direction of his Administration to join TPP before the summer election of the House of Councilors, if not with clear wording, so that he can reserve enough time to negotiate exceptions for tariff abolition with the US, make measures to deal with agricultural issues and ease repellence of farm sectors to minimize negative impact on the election.
US auto industry is said to oppose to non-exceptional tariff abolition of US automobiles, and Japanese government expects that there will be some possibility to negotiate on sensitive issues.
６、 Feb.10 edition:
The policy making body of LDP to request Mr. Abe to observe the election promise of the party. The “guideline” for conditions to join the TPP negotiation will be concluded on 13 Feb. at the meeting of the policy research section for diplomacy and economic partnership of LDP’s Policy Affairs Research Council. It is forecasted that the guideline requires observation of the six conditions set in the election promise for the election held last December. To oppose to participation in the negotiation as far as non exceptional tariff abolition is the precondition . Not to accept numerical target for the import of automobile and other industrial products. To maintain the public health care system. To maintain and secure standards for food safety. Not to agree on the ISDS provision. To take into account special aspects of Japanese system in government procurements and financial service.
＜ Anti-TPP activities update ＞
Our coalition network “STOP TPP!! Civil Action” started discussion to reorganize and expand civil movements as well as Diet members. We will work to gain more participants and prepare for next rally targeting the coming election and then targeting at APEC meeting. Many Diet members lost their seats at the previous election, but those who kept the seats are trying to reorganize nonpartisan opposition groups and now seek for closer ties with civil networks. Mr. Yamada, the main figure among the Diet members lost his seat but opened his office in Tokyo to continue his activities against TPP now having meetings with his former colleagues.
We do not yet know what the outcome will be, but will continue our works.