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Doubts emerge over gov't estimates on TPP impact; opposition demands negotiation details

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, back row, right, listens to questions about the TPP from Democratic Party policy chief Shiori Yamao, front, at a plenary session of the lower house on April 5, 2016. (Mainichi)

Deliberations on the ratification of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and related bills began in a plenary session of the House of Representatives on April 5, with the government and ruling parties aiming for ratification during the current Diet session, and the opposition prepared for a full-on resistance against their passage.

    In response to the questions he was asked in the lower house session by lawmakers from various political parties, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe repeatedly emphasized that the TPP was a trump card in Japan's economic growth strategy, saying, "The TPP will become the foundation on which the Japanese economy's strong mid- to long-term growth will unfold."

    In the latter half of the current Diet session, legislation that would compensate livestock farmers for lost revenue expected from falling prices resulting from the expansion of imports, as well as revisions to 11 laws -- such as an amendment to the Copyright Law, which would extend the current copyright protection period of novels and other publications to 70 years -- will be discussed together.

    However, the direction in which these discussions will go remains unpredictable. There are strong objections to the TPP, particularly from the agricultural sector. The TPP agreement incorporates the reduction of tariff rates and the establishment of a new import ceiling on five important categories, for which a Diet resolution to protect tariffs had previously been passed. The government and ruling parties agree with Abe that the negotiations succeeded in "securing exceptions to the rule of tariff elimination." The opposition, meanwhile, is to argue that the conditions of the treaty violate the Diet resolution.

    Moreover, doubts have been raised about the accuracy of the government's calculations on the impact the treaty will have on Japan's agricultural, forestry and fisheries industries. In December 2015, the government ran the numbers on 33 agricultural, forestry and fisheries items which have tariffs of at least 10 percent and domestic production value of at least 1 billion yen. The government concluded that production value would plunge by a maximum 210 billion yen from a total 6.8 trillion yen, but added that rice production value would not fall because the government plans to buy up as emergency rice stocks the amount equivalent to that which will be imported, thereby preventing rice prices from falling. Some municipalities, however, harbor doubts about the national government's calculations.

    The Kumamoto Prefectural Government, for example, has released its own calculations, which show a drop in production value of 1.36 billion yen, or a little under 4 percent, of all the rice produced in the prefecture, and has called on local farmers to come up with measures to deal with the reduction.

    The national government, meanwhile, maintains that there is no need for more calculations, as stated by Agriculture Minister Hiroshi Moriyama, but the opposition argues that the government's figures are "deceitful underestimates."

    As measures against the effects of the TPP, the government has advocated the reduction of production costs by expanding farmland and the improvement of farm management practices. But because core measures against the TPP are set to be put together in the fall after the House of Councillors election this summer, many are dissatisfied, with one farm operator in the Hokuriku region saying, "So much of the treaty remains murky."

    Once all 12 signatory states finish domestic procedures for ratification within two years of signing the treaty, the treaty goes into force 60 days later. Even if two years have passed, if the six countries that comprise at least 85 percent of the total GDP of the 12 countries finish their domestic ratification procedures, the treaty enters into force 60 days later. But in that case, ratification by the U.S. and Japan -- whose economies are the largest among the 12 negotiating countries -- is crucial.

    In the U.S., amid objections against the TPP expressed by most of the front-running presidential candidates, little progress has been made toward its ratification. Because the administration of President Barack Obama wants to leave the TPP as its legacy, it is urging Congress to start deliberations on it. But as the unpopularity of the treaty becomes increasingly clear, legislators in both the House and the Senate who face elections this year alongside the presidential election are taking a cautious stance.

    "Japan must turn American public opinion around by becoming one of the first countries to ratify the treaty," one source close to Prime Minister Abe's office said. But even if the treaty were to be ratified in Japan, the challenges that lie ahead before the TPP can go into effect are numerous.

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