Deliberations over the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) ratification proposal and related bills, including those intended to protect Japan's agricultural sector, began in the House of Representatives on April 5. The issue is expected be a central focus in the latter half of the ongoing session of the Diet.
The TPP, if ratified, would create the largest free trade zone in the world. It will offer the opportunity for Japan to benefit from the vitality of the rest of the Asia-Pacific region.
However, we cannot say that the Japanese public sufficiently understands the contents of the treaty. Through Diet deliberations, the government must offer the clear basis on which it believes the treaty will serve the national interest.
Among the main points of contention is the impact the treaty could have on Japanese agriculture. Late last year, the government ran the numbers and estimated that the drop in domestic agricultural, forestry and fisheries output would come out to a maximum of 210 billion yen.
According to an estimate released by the government in 2013, however, there would be about a 3-trillion-yen output reduction. How did the number shrink by so much in that time? The government argues that the more recent calculation incorporated the tariffs that would remain under the TPP and the effects of measures to strengthen the Japanese agricultural sector's competitiveness.
But the government and the ruling parties have put off the development of specific measures to strengthen Japanese agricultural competitiveness until the fall. The related bills that have been submitted to the Diet are limited to protective measures, such as raising the rate by which livestock farmers' deficits are compensated.
Opposition parties are demanding that calculations that do no incorporate such measures also be released. The government has refused to do so, however, citing concerns that "figures out of line with reality will take on a life of their own."
However, it is overly optimistic to assume that measures that have yet to be fleshed out will produce positive effects. Such estimates are not enough to eliminate farmers' concerns.
The government also estimates that the TPP will virtually raise the gross domestic product (GDP) by around 14 trillion yen. This figure is over four times that which the government released in 2013. This, the government explains, is because it incorporated the effects of wage hikes resulting from increased competitiveness of Japanese corporations in its recent calculations.
But no matter how much the government tries to highlight the potential positive effects of the TPP, it will be difficult to garner support for the treaty if the public harbors doubts about the government's calculations. The government must offer the public a big picture of the treaty, including an easy-to-understand explanation of both the pros and cons.
The opposition is also demanding that information on the process of TPP negotiations be made public, citing the need to "check whether the government negotiated in a manner serving the national interest." The government, however, has refused to do so, pointing to confidentiality agreements that it has with its negotiating partners. Regardless of what the negotiation process entailed, though, what's most crucial is the content of the treaty itself.
The TPP will have wide-ranging impacts. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has characterized it as "the nation's permanent policy." If that is indeed the case, the public's support and understanding is crucial, and it is the government's responsibility to offer a thorough explanation to attain it.
If Japan and the United States fail to ratify the TPP, the treaty will fall through. All the candidates in the U.S. presidential race have expressed objections to the treaty. A trend toward protectionism there is expected to pick up steam, creating many obstacles to the treaty's effectuation.
"Japan must take the initiative to act and gain momentum toward the early entry of the treaty into force," Abe stated ahead of the Diet deliberations on the treaty. Quick and sloppy decisions must definitely be avoided, and for Japan to take leadership in bringing the treaty into effect, it must first earn the support and understanding of its public.