【Editorial】 TPP talks in a crucial phase – government should disclose information and present clear negotiation policies (Aug. 31, 2013)


The Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks have entered its crucial phase, as negotiators seek to come to agreement by the end of this year. In the 19th round of TPP talks which ended in Brunei on Friday, August 30, the 12 participating countries issued a joint statement to reaffirm their commitment to speed up negotiations. The talks again gave the impression that they are a hasty, secretive rule-making process led by the United States.

The Brunei talks were the first round of negotiations which Japan has participated fully, and the Japanese government is facing a difficult task as a latecomer to make a political decision on sensitive matters in a limited period of time. We strongly urge the government to disclose information on the negotiations and establish negotiation policies in line with the resolutions adopted by the committees of upper and lower houses of the Diet.

The U.S. government, eager to conclude the negotiations, rather forcibly managed the talks in Brunei by setting up and chairing a ministerial meeting and including in a joint statement a goal to come to agreement by the end of this year. The statement said that the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting, scheduled in October in Bali, Indonesia, “will be an important milestone as the 12 countries work intensively to conclude this landmark agreement,” indicating hope that the TPP member countries, also members of APEC, will reach a broad agreement on TPP in the APEC ministerial and leaders’ meetings.

The TPP negotiators are expected to meet again in Washington in mid-September to advance discussions on controversial issues such as tariffs and intellectual property rights, another indication of the U.S. governments strong will to conclude the talks by the year end. Member countries will be asked to make concessions and compromises, but hurdles remain high, since intensified conflicts of interest exist in some fields.

The Japanese government plans to create a process chart and speed up preparations for the negotiations, but government officials must never make premature political decisions without reflecting on public opinions. Rather, Japan should question the U.S.’ hardline stance which ignores the domestic conditions of member countries, and urge the U.S. to compromise.

Regarding the controversial area of tariffs, Japan will face a crucial stage in September when it is expected to hold bilateral talks with the U.S. and Australia, the two major exporting countries. When Japan made its first proposals for lowering and eliminating tariffs in the Brunei round of talks, negotiators of TPP participating countries asked for higher levels of market liberalization, which reveals that it is difficult for Japan to increase its supporters.

As the crucial stage of negotiations nears, our strongest concern lies in its secretiveness. Briefings on stakeholders at the Brunei round of talks were altogether insufficient. Concerning the areas of public health insurance and food safety standards, the Japanese government officials noted that the TPP negotiations are unlikely to affect domestic regulations, but they did not touch on the possibility that the areas would be put on the negotiation table in the bilateral talks with the U.S.

The Japanese government should first disclose to the Diet, related industries and the public the information concerning Japan’s national interests which they obtained during negotiations. We cannot allow negotiators to manipulate information by using a confidentiality agreement as an excuse.

The government’s most important task is to establish a clear negotiation policy based on resolutions adopted by the agriculture, forestry and fisheries committees of the upper and lower houses. The resolutions call for protection of the five key agricultural products and food safety and security, as well as expressing disapproval towards the investor-state dispute settlement clause which would infringe on national sovereignty. We fully support Shigeo Fuji, executive director of the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives (JA Zenchu), who at a meeting with government officials in Brunei asked them to present their policies in a more concrete language.

When should the government be defensive and when should it be offensive? What are the national interests concerning the people’s health and welfare? The government officials must negotiate with their stance based on the will of a sovereign state. If they cannot do so, they should leave the negotiation table. That is how an independent state should act.

(Aug. 31, 2013)

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