Maehara goes to Washington

If PM Noda’s negligence in turning up to September’s APEC without omiyage of Japan’s TPP commitment wasn’t enough to convince the US that Japan does not see the TPP as its economic salvation, then perhaps Maehara Seiji’s Washington comments may do. In a meeting with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Maehara communicated (日) that Japan would not consider the US request for prior concessions before joining negotiations, saying that negotiations would be conducted, well, after negotiations had started. So nothing will happen on the TPP front until 2013 when we know who is in the White House.

Of course, the Asahi interprets this as the pro-American, pro-TPP Maehara communicating intra-party hesistancy about joining the TPP. If it was simply this, I believe he may have chosen different words. An alternative explanation could be that Maehara can see like anyone else that the idea of one-sided prior concessions is fundamentally unfair and asinine. Especially when the requested concessions themselves are fundamentally unfair and asinine.

What about future prospects for the TPP? The TPP’s main supporter is now Hashimoto Toru, who places the TPP, perhaps quixotically, at the centre of his policy drive for opening Japan up to international competition. His strategy is that Japan should pursue a more vigorous free trade agenda at the same time as reforming, perhaps through some tough choices, the agricultural and other uncompetitive sectors in Japan. This seems reasonable, although I think he perhaps is unaware of the geopolitical factors behind Japan’s FTA/EPA policy. Essentially anyone who signs on to cooperation with Hashimoto’s JRA will have to embrace Hashimoto’s TPP policy. The seven established Diet members who switched to Hashimoto’s party have done this, although one of them had to allegedly bite his tongue, which may be a sign of things to come.

The interesting question becomes one of electoral math. If Japan is to join the TPP, then what combination of parties could make this happen? The LDP is likely to become more anti-TPP as it takes back a lot of the rural seats it lost in the 2009 House of Representatives election. This is what happened in the 2010 House of Councillors election, where the LDP didn’t do particular well in the cities but came storming back outside of them. I suspect this might happen again. So an LDP-Komeito-JRA collaboration is probably not going to bring Japan into the TPP, nor would an LDP-DPJ grand coalition. Ironically enough, the DPJ may be more inclined after the election as it will probably be “unburdened” of its rural-orientated members. A DPJ-JRA collaboration may be the best bet for the TPP, if the numbers are there. That said, the longer Japan is left out/stays out, the harder it will be to justify entering at a later stage, given it will have little influence over how the deal is to be shaped. While Obama could ignore the autoindustry after reelection to a second term, it is the Senate that is going to be the hardsell for Japan joining, irrespective of what happens in the US House of Representatives. Another issue is that as the President’s “fast track” negotiating authority (or Trade Promotion Authority) expired in 2007 and the TPP, unlike KORUS, will require renewal of this authority before it can be considered (or else the Senate could theoretically filibuster or even make amendments to the multiple-nation negotiated pact). This article from February suggests that even in 2002 the process for negotiating the renewal of fast track authority took 18 months, and it has already been rejected by the Senate once under Obama’s watch. If Japan is still being considered as a TPP partner to negotiations such legislation may take even longer to pass when Obama pushes for it again in 2013. Even if it is quickly done, the Senate will likely demand that it is given authority over admitting new partners to the TPP negotiating process, which would probably mean Japan will not be included as voting against Japan joining woud not jeopardize the whole agreement. The administration could wait until later to give Japan time to commit before pushing forward on the fast track authority. However the administration will not want to wait too long. As the TPP negotiations get closer to its conclusion (if that is, the direction it is going – we wouldn’t know), the more current participants will want assurance that the painstakingly negotiated agreement is not going to be torn to pieces with all sorts of amendments on the Senate and HoR floor. Tricky.

Maehara’s statement to Senator Baucus today may well be where things end with the TPP and Japan for some time.

Maehara has also failed to bring the omiyage of public understanding regarding the MV-22 Osprey deployment. In fact Maehara requested (日) that conditions be attached to the deployment to Okinawa which would prevent the Osprey from transitioning from vertical takeoff and landing mode (VTOL) and short takeoff and landing mode (STOL) unless it was out to sea or within the cofines of the base. Maehara has, to the surprise of some, being quite outspoken on the Osprey deployment and safety issue over the last few months, perhaps hurting his stock in Washington. That said, I have it on good authority that Maehara was not however universally liked by the DC security establishment.

In any respect, this might be the solution. I have never understood why “pilot error” in previous MV-22 crash incidents, as opposed to the identification of a technical design fault, was supposed to assuage the Japanese people of their concerns – if the difficulty is in the transition as some have argued, then is this not a design fault? Certainly not a technicality given that humans will also be flying the Osprey over Okinawa. Nevertheless, this solution, while making the Osprey marginally more costly to operate, could be argued to be equivalent in safety terms to operating the helicopters the US already uses out of its Japanese bases. That is the logical implication in any respect.

2 thoughts on “Maehara goes to Washington

  1. Sigma1 –

    What has stunned me is Americans and European commentators and policy makers continuing to talk about Japan joining the TPP after objections were raised to Japan’s participation by America’s automotive manufacturing lobby and U.S. Congress members from auto-producing states. The faith that Japanese negotiators would stick around to abnegate themselves to the bailed out purveyors of lousy goods, whose most popular product “light trucks” are protected by a 25% tariff, is laughable.

    • MTC-

      No argument there. It is all rather confusing actually. Perhaps it can be put down to the fact that FTA negotiators and promoters are by nature an optimistic bunch who steadfastly need to ignore the reality immediately before them. If they didn’t, then no trade deal would ever get done.

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