Who says that agricultural interests are a declining force in Japanese politics?
Just days after National Strategy Minister Gemba Koichiro predicted that the Cabinet will likely be issuing a Decision next Tuesday granting the prime minister a free hand in talks on joining the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership trade negotiations, the idea has been scratched. A meeting of the Democratic Party of Japan project team on the TPP failed to approve a statement giving the prime minister authority to go forward due to strong opposition from lawyers with strong ties to agriculture and fisheries. Instead, the new plan is for the government to use the opportunity of the meetings during the upcoming APEC summit as a sounding board, gathering information on the TPP in a process toward considering whether or not Japan should participate in the pact.
So despite the efforts of Gemba and Prime Minister Kan Naoto, who had hoped to give the PM a solid foundation on which to have discussions with other leaders of other nations interested in the TPP concept; despite the full support of the Nippon Keidanren, which had hoped it had found an issue where it could finally work closely with the DPJ; and despite the goads of strong U.S. and Vietnamese interest in joining the TPP, the government has been stopped dead in its tracks.
To be fair, it was not just opposition within the DPJ that caused the setback. The DPJ's tiny coalition partner in government, the People's New Party, voiced its strong opposition to the granting of negotiating rights. So divisive and threatening is the TPP to the country's agricultural interests that even within the opposition LDP pro- and anti-TPP forces have already mobilized in anticipation for a broad battle across party lines.
The failure of the prime minister to win his own party's approval of authority to proceed with talks on possibly joining the TPP is just one more blow to the government's image. Already struggling with the chronic twin problems of its handling of the Chinese ship captain's arrest and its inability to corral Ozawa Ichiro into appearing in the Diet in some fashion to answer questions about the finances of his political funding organizations -- an image of weakness compounded by the government's inability to disuade (what means did it have?) Russian president Dmitry Medvedev visiting the disputed island of Kunashiri -- the government was scrambling for some kind of win to rescue from its poor polling numbers -- which according to the Sankei Shimbun are at 36% support, lower now than they have ever been.
For the government to knocked off its feet by DPJ's own farm lobby, however, is just too pathetic.