【Editorial】 Trade Promotion Authority bill passed in Congress – Never let the government rush to follow U.S. in free-trade talks (June 26, 2015)


The Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade negotiations have reached the critical line. U.S. Senate has approved the Trade Promotion Authority bill, legislation that guarantees President Barack Obama to conclude trade agreements by a timely up-or-down vote by Congress. The bill now awaits Obama’s signature. This means ministers of the TPP member nations are more likely to strike a broad agreement when they meet in July. Through TPA, Congress outlines high-standard objectives and priorities for U.S. negotiators to pursue in trade liberalization agreements, which means U.S.’ negotiating stance is highly likely to become harsher. We should never allow the Japanese government to rush to conclusions without disclosing information or keeping the Diet resolution pledging to protect key farm items.

The TPA, a bipartisan bill introduced in April, finally cleared a major procedural hurdle after nearly two months of congressional battles and setbacks. Harsh political fight continued between the pro-trade Republican Party and the Democratic Party backed by organized labor which is opposed to the TPP talks. Democrats were calling for the passage of the bill packaged with another bill to extend aid to American workers displaced as a result of trade agreements, but the TPA was approved as a standalone bill. It is expected to be adopted by the House of Representatives soon, and will be sent to Obama’s desk for signing to become law before the weekend.

How will this affect the TPP negotiations? The bill poses various problems for U.S.’ trade partners. While granting the president authority to expedite negotiations for trade agreements which is vested in Congress under the Constitution, it calls for high-standard market liberalization. It states the U.S.’ principal negotiating objective with respect to agriculture is to obtain competitive opportunities for U.S. exports in foreign markets through “reducing tariffs to the levels that are same as or lower than those in the United States.” Japan is sure to face strong pressure from the U.S. in bilateral negotiations over tariffs on key agricultural products.

Now that the TPA legislation has cleared the way for the U.S. to finalize the TPP negotiations, U.S. negotiators are likely to urge other governments to make further compromises. In the bilateral negotiations, the U.S. has been demanding that Japan expand tariff-free import quota for U.S. rice and conduct large cuts in beef and pork tariffs coupled with a safeguard measure to raise the tariffs back if U.S. imports surge. Japan may be pressured to make further concessions in the last stage of negotiations.

The bill also maintains a certain level of control on the part of Congress. It allows Congress to revoke fast-track authority if the White House fails to meet the criteria it sets out, making it easier for Congress to demand renegotiation.

Commenting on the passage of the bill, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan and the U.S. will take the lead in aiming at early completion of the TPP talks. We cannot accept any hasty political decisions that harm national interests.

The Japanese government must meet the Diet resolution that calls for protection of sensitive agricultural products and disclose information on the negotiations. But while the U.S. and Australia are relaxing conditions for disclosing documents related to TPP negotiations to lawmakers, the Japanese government has strongly refused to do so. The Diet resolution states the government should offer sufficient disclosure to the public and report promptly to the Diet any information acquired in the course of negotiations, but practically no disclosure has been made so far.

Earlier this month, a group of experts under the United Nations issued a statement expressing concern over the adverse effects of free trade and investment agreements, including the TPP arrangement, on human rights. It also questioned the secret nature of drawing up such agreements and recommended that they should be conducted transparently with consultation and participation of all relevant stakeholders. We believe the draft document must be disclosed before member nations reach broad agreement.

The current Diet session is extended to the end of September. The government should release information regarding the TPP negotiations as stated in the Diet resolution. It should not rush to settle this extremely dangerous agreement that could threaten Japan’s agriculture and the people’s lives.

(June 26, 2015)

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