Last evening the Japanese PM announced that Japan would start conversations with countries involved in the TPP with a view to joining the negotiations. There is a tiny bit of wiggle room there should the world, or domestic politics, fall over in the next few days, but despite all manner of dubious arguments for and against the TPP, Noda appears to have exercised rare leadership, at least over his cabinet. In yesterday’s budget committee meeting in the Diet we saw the interesting sight of the pro-JA Minister of Agriculture Kano sitting side by side with his Prime Minister and answering positively all manner of bizarre questions about the TPP, and how it will be the end of the world.
The “best” was saved for last when SDP leader Fukushima Mizuho spent all of her time haranguing the PM about why he wasn’t going to make his announcement in the Diet at that very minute. If I may paraphrase the conversation:
Fukushima: Is it not the case that since you are not announcing in the Diet your intention (ed: to start discussions about joining the negotiations for the TPP – remember all countries have to ok Japan even joining these negotiations!) that you are in fact neglecting the Diet as the voice of the people?
Noda: not really…we have processes to work through and a wide range of discussions still need to be had…
Fukushima: that’s not true, and is it also not true that by flying out to announce Japan’s participation in Honolulu that the PM cares more about foreign countries? Are you really Japan’s PM? (this last one was a real statement). You just want to avoid being yelled at by the Diet.
Noda: well, we (governments) do it all of the time…but anyway I will be announcing it in Japan tonight before I leave and trust me when I say that being yelled at by the Diet is the least scary part of any likely fallout from this.
Fukushima: that’s not true…we should be in the Diet having serious discussions about the merits of the TPP as something so important should be discussed in the Diet.
Noda: er, well that is exactly what we should be doing, I agree (ie are you kidding me! If only we could have a serious debate! Noda’s voice actually rose for the first time here – the man has patience!)
Fukushima: I hate you (well she called him ‘hidoi’ but that is how it sounded to me)
Noda: thanks for the questions guys, real helpful (but much more politely)
Then at the press conference a reporter thought he would try and be clever and catch the PM out by asking about the implication of “IDS” or investor-state dispute resolutions, for which individual entities such as companies can sue governments if their decisions get in the way of legal business practices. So now everyone wants to ask technical questions! Whether IDS will be a big feature of the TPP is anyone’s guess and it is not exactly front and centre. In fact some countries are moving away from including these mechanisms in trade agreements. Not exactly a point of great interest for a PM who is struggling to convince the electorate that his negotiators be allowed to even start talking about negotiating these issues. And that has been the essential problem with the discourse on the TPP. Unless negotiations proceed then no one really knows where the dice will fall. Despite looking like a typical trade negotiation, the key thing to remember about the TPP is that it is a multilateral negotiation where a country is bound to find allies on particular issues, who might in turn turn-out to be enemies on another. And ultimately the legislatures of the democratic countries will have the final say, something the likes of Fukushima Mizuho would do well to remember. Constitutionally, it is Noda’s decision (to start negotiations) and frankly it is pleasing to see Noda act as if as PM he does have this responsibility. Noda could, when the initial outpouring of misplaced, and in some cases insincere, grief, subsides, actually command respect by sticking to his guns and not weakling away from the hard questions.
Thisarticle while written from a NZ perspective very concisely summarizes most of the pressing issues about the TPP and exactly why it could turn into a long drawn out process. It also shows why the US being on the other side of the TPP fence, that is, looking in, is actually crucial. Should the US farm lobby and a number of politicians have their way, NZ would be turfed out of the TPP. As an original member that won’t happen to NZ but it was of absolutely no surprise yesterday when it was suggested that Japan be prevented from joining the TPP by high-ranking US politicians (who are clearly not particularly mindful of their own deeply embedded protectionist tendencies).
So in essence there is plenty of time for serious debate to take place on the issue of TPP. A good place to start might be to sort out why Japanese agriculture, and specifically land utilization and Japan’s self-sufficiency rate, have declined under the current, apparently pro-agriculture regime presided over by the agricultural cooperatives in Japan