On trade pacts and political blocs – Japan and the Trans-Pacific Partnership

by Chris Zappone

In as much as trade-pacts are future political blocs, the US and Japan will still have some ways to go before they form a trade bloc, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, comprising 40 per cent of the global economy.

But for now, the US has officially allowed Japan to join the talks on the creation of the 11-member group. 

The White House and Japan’s Shinzo Abe are keen to hash out the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as a bulwark against China’s emerging economic dominance.

Abe, himself, highlighted the urgency, according to AFP:

“I want our participation in the negotiations to come into force quickly so we can play a critical role in defining the rules” of the pact, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in Tokyo.

It’s worth noting that it is the White House, not all of the Democratic Party, that supports Japan’s inclusion, as it will put pressure on US automakers. The nascent manufacturing movement in the US also opposes its old foe Japan.

Alliance for American Manufacturing president Scott Paul:

“Including Japan in the TPP without ironclad assurances that it will open its markets and stop manipulating its currency is incredibly irresponsible.

 

“Before the real negotiations have even started, it looks like the Obama Administration has already given Japan a blank check to cheat.

 

“Haven’t we learned anything from the last decade? Large trade imbalances and barriers in autos, auto parts, and other manufactured goods have gone unaddressed, and were not adequately addressed in this consultation.

 

Abe, faces stiff resistance around agriculture, which the US and Japan have considered leaving out of the deal. For more on the announcement from the US, click here. And yet, Japan and the US are political allies, facing a huge shared political challenge in Asia. A key element to the TPP, which is highly controversial for its intellectual property and investor-state dispute settlement resolution clauses, is that it would throw a lasso of trade rules across the Asia-Pacific region. The concern among civil society activists, is that it would be a lasso of bad rules, which are overly company-friendly but damaging to democracy.

Then in the final analysis, the TPP’s intent must be compared to what will prevail in its absence in Asia regarding trade, IP, legal remedies for disputes. Bottom line: lots of work to do.

And as complex and cumbersome as the TPP negotiations are, if the governments involved want the rules to have anything like support from the citizens of these nations – which are at vastly different levels of development – they need to provide some element of transparency in the negotiations to their citizen-stakeholders.

As Cicero said: “Freedom is participation in power.” If the US, Japan and other countries can’t do better than this, than how are they any better than the clearly authoritarian governments they stand against?