But it will be news to many that the majority of Japanese Members of Parliament (the Diet) also oppose Japan’s joining the NAFTA-style deal.
Last November, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced that Japan would begin discussions with related countries toward joining the Trans-Pacific deal. Prior to his announcement, a so-called “Parliamentary Caucus to Cautiously Consider the TPP” – led by Masahiko Yamada, the former Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries,- adopted a resolution against such a “pre-mature pledge”. Later, 365 of 722 Diet members signed a petition that states the government should not join the TPP.
This majority Parliamentary Caucus sent a delegation of six Members of Parliament from Japan’s ruling party (DPJ), led by former Minister Yamada, to Washington DC from January 8 to 12.
At a press conference on January 11, they shared some of their perceptions from the visit. Eyes on Trade was there to report on what they said.
Representative Nubuhiko Suto explained that the purpose of the delegation’s was to explain the Diet’s and Japanese position on the Trans-Pacific FTA to U.S. government and other stakeholders, and also to engage in discussions on intellectual property, agriculture and health care to see if the two countries could come to a mutually agreeable understanding moving forward. They visited the USTR and State Department; the offices of 11 members of Congress to exchange views with fellow parliamentarians; 13 trade/business associations, including rice, beef, farmers, pharmaceutical organizations; the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), to discuss more about the investor-state resolution system in FTAs; civil society organizations; and U.S. scholars.
Former Minister Yamada opened by saying he had expected that nearly everyone in the U.S. would be supporting “free trade,” but he was surprised by the polling numbers he had seen: that 69% of Americans believe that “free trade” has led to job loss and that 53% of Americans believe that “free trade” has hurt the U.S. During the delegation’s meetings with 31 stakeholders during their 3 day visit, he was surprised to learn that many in the U.S. are concerned about current trade policy, including some of the U.S. Members of Congress. He noted that they certainly met with organizations and individuals that supported the TPP, but he also noted that some of them did not seem very familiar with some of the provisions, such as the investor-state dispute system, and therefore believed that once there was more of a debate on the substance of the agreement, more opposition in the U.S. may be forthcoming.
Minister Yamada stated that at one point in Japan, there was the impression that the TPP would only be bad for agriculture, but now the public is concerned about more issues, such as how it could undermine public health and the implications of the investor-state provisions. After conversations in the U.S., his two biggest concerns are intellectual property provisions and investor-state issues. The Minister was very concerned when, during a visit with a pharmaceutical trade association, the delegation was told that patent and data exclusivity periods could be extended (they weren’t told how long). Given Japan’s different patent system, the delegation was concerned that Trans-Pacific FTA could require changes to their regulatory standards and negatively impact their pharmaceutical industry and public health.
Both Councillor Masako Ookawara, a member of Japan’s Upper House, and Minister Yamada made strong points about Japanese consumers’ keen interest in food safety and food labeling. The delegation met with representatives of the biotech industry and was very disturbed to learn that the Trans-Pacific FTA might lead to reversal of GMO labeling. She explained that Japan is currently in the process of consolidating their GMO labeling laws, which leads to concern that Japan’s entrance in the Trans-Pacific FTA could interfere with that process. Minister Yamada expressed that, given Japan’s high pesticide and chemical standards, he believed that it would be a big problem in Japan to have to implement U.S.-based standards. Ookawara also noted her surprise that there seemed to be much less public debate about the Trans-Pacific FTA currently occurring in the U.S. than in Japan, where every day there is coverage about the Trans-Pacfic FTA in the mainstream press.
While the Noda administration had been assuring the Diet that Japan could achieve exclusions in the negotiations, the delegation was disturbed by the confirmation they received from Deputy US Trade Representive Demetrios Marantis and colleagues that there would be no exclusions in the Trans-Pacific FTA – that the goal was zero tariffs on all products (with a potential phase-in period) and conformity in rules and regulations in all TPFTA countries. In such a form, Minister Yamada asserted that the Trans-Pacific FTA would not pass the Japanese parliament.
The delegation was also concerned about the lack of information with regard to the substance of the Trans-Pacific FTA negotiations. Representative Suto noted that the only portion of the text they had seen had been the leaked texts of the U.S. proposal for the intellectual property chapter. The delegation, therefore, asked U.S. government officials and trade associations to provide more information about the U.S. positions in this and other areas, and were quite shocked that the response was that Diet members should refer to the U.S-Korea Free Trade Agreement. Knowing that this FTA has been such a divisive domestic issue in Korea, the delegation was disturbed that the U.S.-Korea FTA would be the model.
Finally, the delegation warned U.S. officials at the State Department that it is important for both countries to examine the TPP through the lens of security as well as trade. Minister Yamada stated that he informed the Deputy Assistant Secretary that 365 Diet members (more than half) are opposed to the Trans-Pacific FTA, and that if the Japanese government proceeds with the negotiations, the Diet will not ratify it. He also told the State Department officials that many Japanese and particularly young people feel that the deal is being imposed on them by the U.S., and that he feared that this could give rise to anti-American sentiment. Therefore he advised the U.S. to proceed cautiously and to make sure that the Japanese people feel that they are equal partners and receive the information necessary for them to feel comfortable.