13 FEBRUARY 2011: Four-day talks between Australia and Japan on bilateral trade suggest that popular Japanese oppositon to agricultural reforms will continue to stand in the way of Tokyo negotiating in the TPP.
The talks, which just ended and were the first on trade between the two countries since April last year, have been described by Australian negotiators as 'useful discussions', but it does not appear any breakthrough was reached over Japan's continued subsidies to its wheat and rice farmers.
A full piece on the talks from AFP follows below.
24 NOVEMBER 2010:
Over the course of the APEC Leaders’ Conference in Yokohama, TPP side-developments have continued apace, in part due the the Japanese government’s continued interest in the partnership.
The NZ Herald’s coverage of PM John Key’s APEC statements noted that he has drawn a hard line on agriculture, reported as saying that New Zealand ‘will not want
Japan at the table’ if it attempts to exclude agriculture from any trade deal.
He added that Japan would need to enter TPP ‘only on (New Zealand’s) terms’.
To other TPP partners, he urged that they hold firm on existing criteria and conditions rather than relaxing any entry barriers and allowing compromises for Japan to join talks, while reiterating NZ’s desire to negotiate a ‘high-quality, comprehensive’ agreement.
Leading up to the talks, Japan’s nationwide polls showed nearly half of respondents supported Japan joining the TPP. However, Japanese agricultural and forestry workers have demonstrated en masse against the prospect of talks and Japanese PM Naoto Kan’s own ruling Democratic Party have urged him to temporarily abandon the free-trade drive. Ultimately, Japan indicated at the end of APEC that it would not make a decision on joining TPP until June 2011. This may be too late for Japan to join as a negotiating partner however; it may be required to accede to a complete agreement if one is completed.
Meanwhile, at a sideline summit of TPP members, Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet confirmed that his country would henceforth participate as a full member of the talks. Previously, it had held ‘observer status’, and had been required to decide before the Auckland round of talks whether it would shift to full membership.
Kan’s appearance at that summit was considered contentious enough in Japan that American officials banned television cameras from attending the meeting. The Herald’s John Armstrong reported that this had annoyed some other delegations to the summit.
A NZ Herald article on Key’s results from APEC (which also included a signal to begin non-TPP negotiations with Russia) and a CNEO piece on Japanese opposition to TPP talks appear below.
11 NOVEMBER 2010: Japanese media report that a crowd of over 3000 citizens protested on Wednesday against Japan's plan to initiate discussions to join the TPP at the APEC Leaders' Conference in Yokohama.
A mixture of farmers, fishermen, and agricultural officials began their rally in an open-air hall before marching through the streets of central Tokyo, chanting and bearing placards. Speakers warned that if Japan joined the TPP, its domestic agriculture, fisheries, and forestry would be wiped out.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Naoto Kan's sole coalition partner. the People's New Party, has indicated it will not approve any TPP negotiations, while the main centre-right opposition party, the Liberal Democratic Party, has also made indications his party will not support taking part in the TPP. A Japan Today article on the rally has more information.
8 NOVEMBER 2010: AP reports the meetings ahead of next weekend's APEC Leaders' Summit in Yokohama have commenced, just as the Japanese Cabinet has indicated a willingness to engage with TPP partners. As reported earlier, a leak of the APEC Leaders' Declaration indicated that APEC would call for 'concrete steps' toward a Free-Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).
Further information on the draft has indicated it offers no time-frame or deadline for such an FTA. Other limitations may be that APEC itself is not a negotiating body, and its membership, ranging from the US to third world nations such as Papua New Guinea, is even more disparate than that of the TPP.
The Daily Yomiuri reports that the government followed the Cabinet meeting agreeing to enter into talks with TPP partners, but not being specific as to whether it actually intends to participate in the agreement. This lack of a clear stand is believed to be due to opposition to possible TPP reforms within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan itself. The Yomiuri article, reproduced below, is valuable in highlighting the tenuous domestic situation of Prime Minister Naoto Kan's government over the TPP question.
5 NOVEMBER 2010: An outline of a draft of the APEC Leaders' Declaration, for November's Yokohama conference, indicates that the forum will refer to a US-backed multilateral trans-Pacific free trade agreement as a 'pathway' to creating a region-wide free trade area.
The draft, obtained by Kyodo News, allegedly cites an expanded TPP agreement as a method of acheiving a Free Trade Area of the South Pacific. The draft also recommends that APEC 'incubate' that long-term goal.
Japanese proponents of free-trade and the TPP Agreement are understood to be hopeful that Japan's chairing of APEC this year, combined with the significance of committing to an developing network of agreements at the APEC leaders' meeting, would mean that the country assumed an decisive and leading position in continued talks. However, as TPPDigest has reported, the question of joining the TPP has proved divisive throughout Japanese political culture over the past month.
5 NOVEMBER 2010: The ruling Japanese DPJ party may be en route for a collision course with its Prime Minister, Naoto Kan as to Japan's role in TPP negotiations, according to Nikkei.
The government will seek to win Cabinet approval next Tuesday for its basic policy on economic partnership agreements, including its position on TPP - however, some 70 lawmakers have clearly indicated their opposition, gathering at the Japanese Diet to urge a cautious approach to the pact. Representatives from rural and agricultural areas believe the tariff-abolishing requirements of a finalised TPP agreement will result in an influx of cheap agricultural products which would destroy Japan's domestic market.
The full Nikkei article follows below.
5 NOVEMBER 2010: NZ IT news site Computerworld has quoted NZ intellectual property lawyer Rick Shera as warning that that US and prospective Japanese participation in the TPP could signal a renewed attempt by by both countries to secure more stringent IT protection provisions they have not been able to secure in the latest version of the ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) text.
Shera believes that as the European Union presented a major obstacle to 'maximalist' IP protection in ACTA talks, the US may be using the TPP negotiations as an opportunity to circumvent opposition and set a tougher regime up among Asian nations.
The full article follows below.
18 OCTOBER 2010: The Asahi Shimbun reports that Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan's aggressive push for his country to investigate joining the TPP at some point in the near future has placed his administration on a 'collision course' with farmers.
Kan's Democratic Party of Japan have announced the initiative as falling rice prices have affected farmers' livelihoods, with the possibility of trade liberalisation doing away with their traditional protections alarming them further. The government has pushed for a more assertive courting of free trade deals, warning that Japan risks being left behind as an economic force if it does not form more comprehensive economic partnerships.
But even within the DPJ, sentiment has been divided, with at least one Upper House member warning the TPP would destroy both the rural economy and community. Compounding this is a perception that the government's existing programme to compensate Japanese farmers for reduced market prices is ineffective, and that it could not cover the further burden of the abolition of tariffs on agricultural imports.
The full Asahi story follows below.
12 OCTOBER 2010: Both the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg have reported on Malaysia's inclusion in the third round of talks, bringing the ranks of partners to nine.
The WSJ notes both the likely long duration of talks, as well as the uncertainty as to whether a final agreement would even be assured passage in congress without any form of fast-track authority for members. On the other commentators note the strategic value of the US's increasing engagement in the area (particularly as against China), and that Malaysia's inclusion as the US's 16th-largest trading partner gives the TPP some much needed momentum.
Speaking to Bloomberg, Australian trade academic John Ravenhill was more pessimistic about the relative insignificance of many of the partners so far, but noted that the inclusion of Japan and South Korea could make it the broadest-ranging US FTA since NAFTA. For Malaysia's part, it notes that the announcement and deal may attract foreign investment to the South-East Asian nation again, after it had been flagging in recent years.
Both articles follow below.
9 OCTOBER 2010: Asahi.com reports on Japan's continued consideration of becoming a party to the TPP. Prime Minister Naoto Kan now says he will consider participating in future negotiations, following on from indications from Trade Minister Akihiro Ohata that there would be overtures towards the existing parties.
Asahi''s editorial welcomes Kan's position, announced ahead of the APEC leaders' meeting in Yokohama next month, but is clear as to the potential obstacles. Any trade agreement involving NZ and the US is likely to require Japan to liberalise its market for agricultural products, which may damage the government's support. Additionally, the decision comes in a climate where privatisation is presently unpopular, following criticism of the decision to privatise Japan Post in 2007 and stymied attempts to reverse the process recently.
Countering this is fear that Japan is being left behind by regional rivals (China, South Korea) who have been negotiating and finalising trade agreements as Japan refuses to negotiate on traditionally protected areas. The full editorial follows below.
27 SEPTEMBER 2010: Japan's new Trade Minister, Akihiro Ohata, has announced that he is looking at making overtures toward the TPP. Japan has previously been vague as to whether it would join the framework.
However, Ohata admitted to a news conference that it would 'difficult' for Japan to participate unless it overcame 'its agricultural issues'.
Ohata's remarks come ahead of an annual meeting of APEC leaders in Japan in November, at which the TPP is likely to be discussed by both current and prospective parties.
Japan's reluctance to open up its agricultural market has made it previously reluctant to enter either P4 or TPP talks, but on this occasion Agriculture, Forestries and Farming Minister Michihiko Kano has also backed Ohata's announcement. He has suggested environmental tax revenue may be used to support farmers disadvantaged by the lowering of agricultural tariffs.
However, Kyodo News International reports a Foreign Ministry official as saying that Japan will first have to carry out studies over the next two months to determine whether it shall join talks for 2011, but also reported a Japanese trade academic as expressing scepticism that Japan would make any decision before the APEC meeting.
Kyodo News's full article follows below.
21 MAY 2010 - Last week was deemed 'World Trade Week' in the United States by the Obama Administration, and saw US Trade Representative Ron Kirk has been work to encourage buy-in for support of the TPP from both the US Chamber of Commerce and members of the public.
On 18 May, Kirk spoke to the US Chamber of Commerce's 'Next Steps on World Trade' conference, with a focus on his administration's 'high-standard, 21st century, Asia-Pacfic regional trade agreement'. He again confirmed that San Francisco would be the site of negotiations on the week of June 14. With regards to market access arrangements, he said that any agreement would need to be 'forward looking' while also possessing 'enough flexibility to accomodate sensitivities'.
Kirk also indicated that the second round of negotiations would focus on 'value-added' benefits of a regional agreement, such as greater regulatory cooperation on issues such as food safety.
On 21 May, the USTR held an "online chat" session in which it answered submitted questions about various aspects of the TPP. The chat indicated that the USTR is focused on obtaining an investor-state dispute mechanism for the TPP, that it intends to 'consult closely with stakeholders' over the possible changes to rules of origin in the US textile industry that the TPP would require, and that the US will seek 'high-standard' IP enforcement rights. A transcript of the chat follows below.
15 MAY 2010 - Inside US Trade
reports that private-sector sources are questioning whether the US administration needs to be doing more to bring developed Asian countries like Japan into TPP negotiations faster. These sources also say that the USTR has set down a deadline of agreeing to join the talks by early in the Northern Hemisphere fall at the latest, or be required to wait and accede to a completed deal.
"...Several sources also questioned whether a major country like Japan would be willing to accede to a TPP agreement after it has already been negotiated, rather than joining the talks so that it could influence the outcome of the negotiations. If not, this would make it paramount to ensure that countries join during the negotiations, they said.
But one source disagreed, arguing that Japan may not want to be left out of an Asia-Pacific free trade area and could ultimately agree to its terms even if it did not partake in the negotiations."
US officials had previously stressed to Inside US Trade
that accession during the negotiation process may be possible, but should be kept to a one-off occurence lest it continually disrupt the negotiation process. However, the USTR has set no absolute guidelines on how and when countries may join the talks or accede to a finished deal. US officials have discussed the possibility of entry with both Colombia and Malaysia at different times since March.
A paper put out and submitted to the USTR by the Washington-based Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics has backed the US's decision to enter TPP negotiations, while urging that "the US objective should be to reach agreement on a TPP including at least a dozen Asia Pacific countries, including Japan and Korea and at least one major ASEAN country as well as the eight that are currently committed to the initiative, by the time of the APEC Summit to be hosted by the United States in President Obama's home town of Honolulu in late 2011." The paper goes on to recommend that participation "immediately" be extended to Canada and Mexico. One of the paper's authors, C. Fred Bergsten, is interviewed here.