【Editorial】 Japan-U.S. preliminary talks reach agreement; Japan reveals its weak-kneed negotiating stance (April 13, 2013)


The bilateral preparatory negotiations between Japan and the United States, dubbed the “entrance fee” for joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks, were concluded. Japan acceded to U.S. demands and made significant concessions in the areas of beef, automobiles and insurance. Not a glimpse of “a strong negotiating power” as insisted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could be seen in the negotiations concerning Japan’s participation in the TPP. Japan is expected to join the TPP negotiations as early as July, but how can we expect the government, with such a diplomatic stance leaning heavily toward the U.S., to protect key agricultural products, the Japanese people’s lives and the national sovereignty in the coming negotiations?

The most controversial issue in the bilateral negotiations was the automotive sector. Japan, under the pressure from the U.S. auto industry, confirmed that the U.S. government will maintain its tariffs on Japan’s motor vehicles (2.5% for passenger cars and 25% for trucks) for the time being. It also accepted the U.S. demand to largely increase the number of motor vehicles eligible for import under a simple safety and environment certification method, from the present 2,000 vehicles annually of each vehicle type to 5,000 vehicles.

In the insurance sector, the U.S. has been demanding that conditions for a level playing field should be secured for U.S. insurance firms so they can compete against rival “kampo” life insurance products offered by the Japan Post group. Separate from the agreement, Japan decided not to approve any new kampo products for at least several years, leading the way for the two governments to conclude negotiations on the area. In addition, safety standards for food products such as food additives were put on the negotiation table, the area where Japan will inevitably be pressured in the future to take deregulation measures. As for beef, in February, Japan significantly deregulated the cattle age limit for beef imported from the U.S. from the current 20 months or younger to 30 months or younger. Japanese consumers are showing concerns over the U.S. rules for livestock feed, its inspection system for bovine spongiform encephalopathy and its traceability – the system to track goods along the production and distribution chain.

Tough negotiations await Japan as it joins the negotiation table for the TPP as early as July, as member countries fiercely fight to protect their national interests. It is not only the U.S. which is eagerly aiming at the Japanese market. Australia and New Zealand are also trying to increase Japan-bound exports of agricultural products, and are checking Japan’s stance of demanding exceptions for tariff eliminations of key products. In the joint statement for the bilateral preliminary negotiations, Japan and the U.S. recognized bilateral trade sensibilities, such as certain agricultural products for Japan, but it does not necessarily promise that tariffs for such products will be exempted from elimination or be separately renegotiated. There is no guarantee at all whether the Japanese government can maintain the 6 conditions for joining the TPP which the Liberal Democratic Party listed as campaign pledges for the Lower House elections last year.

In the past trade negotiations, Japan has called for “coexistence of different types of agriculture” and has asked for establishment of trade rules which respect the circumstances and sensitive products of different countries. This is totally different from the TPP, whose basic principle is to abolish all tariffs and which prioritizes the interests of global enterprises over national sovereignty and people’s lives. There is no legitimacy in following the TPP principles, which differ considerably from Japan’s policies and values. Market principles and competitive societies are by no means the values which should be shared worldwide.

The role which Japan should play in the international community is to lead the process of making trade and investment rules which can be shared by different countries, the rules which take into consideration different culture, history, society and values of each country. The strong negotiating power, which Abe often refers to, should be used not to create distorted rules under the U.S.-dominated TPP framework, but to spread the idea of coexistence worldwide.

(April 13, 2013)

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