Editorial: Japan should play leading role in concluding TPP talks at an early date
The leaders of countries participating in Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations have agreed to seek to conclude the talks by the end of this year.
Since U.S. President Barack Obama, who is playing a key role in promoting the talks was absent, the leaders fell short of incorporating the phrase, "largely reached an agreement," in their joint statement. However, the countries participating in the TPP negotiations had appeared far from reaching any agreement when they started the talks. The TPP is an important economic partnership accord for Japan. As such, the government should play a leading role in seeking an early agreement, while doing its utmost to coordinate views between interested parties in Japan.
The leaders of the countries involved in the talks initially sought to reach a basic agreement at the latest meeting as President Obama wished to progress the TPP negotiations in a bid to gain momentum for the Democratic Party in the midterm election in autumn next year. Because of his absence, the leaders of the countries involved failed to reach a basic accord, but agreed to maintain their goal of concluding the talks within this year.
Still, there are stumbling blocks to achieving this target. Interests are sharply conflicting between countries involved over key areas, such as tariffs on agricultural and other products and intellectual property rights including patent terms for pharmaceutical products and other articles. And a gap is widening between the United States that is seeking an early conclusion of the talks and emerging countries that prioritize their domestic situations.
If the situation were left as it is, the participating countries' efforts to conclude the talks within this year could lose momentum and the talks could be indefinitely prolonged, which must be avoided by all means.
In order for Japan, whose population is declining, to sustain its economic growth, it is indispensable for the country to inject the dynamism of the Asia-Pacific region, which is enjoying rapid growth, into the country's economy. Therefore, the successful conclusion of the TPP talks, which will also set trade and investment rules for this region, is crucial for Japan.
The TPP is also expected to have an impact on a free trade agreement between Japan, China and South Korea and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) for East Asia. China is participating in these free trade negotiations, and countries involved in these talks should seek an early conclusion in order to fully incorporate China in these free trade zones.
The role of Japan, which is the second largest economy participating in the TPP talks next only to the United States, is quite important. However, if it were to continue to insist that five areas of agricultural products be treated as an exception to the elimination of tariffs, the country would not be able to fulfill its role. A total of 586 items are included in these five areas. If the tariffs on all these articles were to be retained, the TPP would fail to achieve the liberalization rate that the parties are seeking. Japan could not lead the talks if it were in a position to come under pressure to open up its markets to foreign goods.
In this sense, a senior Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) legislator's proposal to initiate efforts to coordinate views between interested parties in Japan with an eye to eliminating tariffs on goods that would hardly affect domestic producers should be appreciated as a move to support the government in the TPP talks. The ruling LDP has the responsibility to explain a gap between its senior member's proposal and its pledge during the House of Councillors election in July to treat certain areas as an exception to trade liberalization. However, if consensus is gained from domestic producers on the elimination of tariffs on some fields as proposed by the senior LDP lawmaker, it will give the government more choices in the negotiations and help Japan increase its presence and influence in the talks.
The TPP talks will provide the government with an opportunity to embark on full-scale efforts to bolster various domestic industries that could be affected by trade liberalization, such as strengthening of the agricultural sector's international competitiveness. Japan was slow to support domestic farmers when it agreed to open up its market to the imports of rice as a staple food during the Uruguay round of free trade talks under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The government later spent about 6 trillion yen in taxpayers' money to support domestic farmers, but the measure failed to increase their international competitiveness. Japan must not repeat the same mistake in the ongoing TPP talks.
October 09, 2013(Mainichi Japan)