Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed their determination to realize an early conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks. We cannot overlook the fact that during his visit to the United States, Abe never made clear he would protect Japan’s key agricultural products. When Japan decided to join the talks, the two leaders recognized that both countries have bilateral trade sensitivities, such as certain agricultural products and manufactured products. We must get back to the basics. The Diet should criticize Abe’s hasty attitude, and the government should respond to skepticism among the Japanese people by disclosing information.
On Tuesday, April 28, Abe held a meeting with Obama and agreed to strengthen the two countries’ alliance. They also agreed to work together to lead other TPP partners to a swift and successful conclusion of the talks. The two nations have reinforced their previous stance, and we must watch out for sudden progress in the bilateral negotiations.
Obama was optimistic about the passage of the U.S. trade promotion authority (TPA) bill, which is seen by many as indispensable to the successful conclusion of the TPP talks. “I’m confident we’re going to end up getting the votes (to pass the bill) in the Congress,” he said. If the bill has higher chances of passing, the two countries could make political decisions prior to the ministerial meeting of the TPP member nations expected in the end of May. We urge the Japanese government not to compromise in the final phase of the negotiations.
Regarding the TPP negotiations, Abe has repeatedly said that the government will protect what should be protected and will go on the offensive when it is necessary to do so. He also stressed that the government will pursue the way which serves the best interests of the nation. He should have made this determination clear in his meeting with Obama and in his speech at the U.S. Congress. It is doubtful that strengthening national security and economic cooperation for stronger alliance between the two nations and sacrificing Japanese agricultural products in the TPP framework meet Japan’s national interests.
When Abe and Obama met in February 2013, the two leaders confirmed that both countries “have bilateral trade sensitivities, such as certain agricultural products for Japan and certain manufactured products for the United States”. We must not forget the fact that Japan decided to participate in the TPP negotiations after sharing this common recognition. Such discussion was not made in the latest meeting and neither was it mentioned in the joint statement this time.
Rather, in the recent bilateral negotiations, the two countries are said to be considering increasing Japan’s imports of U.S. rice. It is reported that the U.S. is urging Japan to expand its imports of U.S. rice by 215,000 tons per year and Japan is seeking a compromise by making such proposals as increasing the U.S. rice import quota by around 50,000 tons and giving a favorable treatment to U.S. processed rice flour products. It is highly likely that Japan is also considering making concessions concerning imports of beef and pork. Depending on the outcome of the negotiations, Japan’s agriculture could suffer serious damage. We must not let the nation’s agriculture industry to weaken further.
Abe said at the Congress: “The TPP goes far beyond just economic benefits. It is also about our security. Long-term, its strategic value is awesome.” His remarks apparently reflect the rise of China in military and economic aspects. It is true that an economic battle between the United States and China is intensifying as China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) gains support of many European countries and major emerging economies. However, Japan and the U.S. should not use this situation as a means to unnecessarily stir up a sense of crisis and accelerate the TPP talks under their collaboration.
(May 1, 2015)