Negotiations under the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks will be at a crucial stage this week and next week. The negotiations were carried out in strict confidentiality throughout the talks, giving no room for the public to reflect their voices. It is a matter of course for the parliaments and the public of the TPP member countries to call for disclosure of the draft of the TPP agreement. We have also been repeatedly urging the Japanese government to disclose information on the negotiations. Disclosure of the draft agreement is inevitable to check whether the resolutions made by the Diet’s committees are met and to provide a basis for public debate and Diet discussions. Backroom political deal without such a democratic process cannot be permitted.
With the TPP ministerial meeting scheduled to start on Saturday, Feb. 22, chief negotiators began discussions on Monday, Feb. 17, in an effort to agree on controversial areas such as tariffs. On Saturday, Feb. 15, Akira Amari, minister in charge of the TPP talks, met with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to discuss the two nations’ issues of concern including Japanese agricultural products and U.S. auto tariffs. They decided to continue the talks as differences still remain.
However, details of the negotiations are kept behind closed doors, despite the fact that the TPP is a comprehensive, international agreement which directly affects national sovereignty, local autonomy and the people’s lives. This is an extremely awkward situation. The confidentiality of the talks is incomparable to any previous multinational trade negotiations. It reflects the abnormality of the TPP agreement which is aimed at maximizing the benefits of a handful of global corporate giants by facilitating investment through tariff elimination and deregulation.
Even in the United States, which leads the TPP negotiations, some 200 members of the Senate and the House of Representatives sent a letter to President Barack Obama last November, opposing the trade promotion authority bill and criticizing the confidentiality of the TPP talks. Chilean lawmakers also released a similar statement. The movement to ask ministers in charge of the TPP talks to allow public access to the draft text is spreading worldwide, with lawmakers in seven countries including Japan tackling the issue. Similar moves are taken by the citizens worldwide, with more people demanding that their governments disclose information and offer explanation. In Japan alone, more than 100 organizations have signed an online petition to release the TPP draft text to the public and give the public chances to submit public comments, and the number is continuing to increase.
If the government keeps on refusing to disclose the text on the basis of confidentiality of the talks, it will lead to negligence of the Diet which is delegated with the task of discussing the agreement, and might make the parliamentary system become a mere “rubber stamp.” We know that negotiators have their strategies in conducting multilateral negotiations for the benefits of the nation. That is why it is inevitable for the Diet to take time to examine and discuss the draft text, before it becomes an official agreement, to see whether it is in line with the Diet committees’ resolutions and the current legal system. At the same time, it is necessary for the government to offer sufficient explanation on the draft to stakeholders and the public and solicit public comments from them under the administrative procedure act.
Every Diet member has the responsibility as a lawmaker to ask the governments of the TPP member countries to disclose information. Many Diet members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who won a seat by pledging to oppose the TPP talks have the duty to do so. Their pledge to keep the Diet committees’ resolutions should not be a campaign promise only to be broken after the election. Disclosure of the draft text is a minimum condition for a democratic process. Many of the lawmakers, citizens and farmers in the TPP member nations share this way of thinking. We should cooperate beyond national, organizational and factional borders to fight the abnormality of the TPP talks and call for the need to release the draft text.
(Feb. 18, 2014)