Corey Wallace, who is in Japan doing research for his doctorate, has taken a moment to consider the Trans Pacific Partnership and its role Asia-Pacific trade policy.
I would not have very much to add, save that in Japan there is a striking contrast between the elite representations of the TPP and the grassroots reality of opposition to Japan participating in even discussions about joining the pact.
The recent approval of the Korea United States Free Trade Agreement was portrayed by the media as proof that Japan was in decline in world importance, even with its most important/only military ally the United States, and that the country had better gets its britches hitched on and get going on negotiating free trade pacts, if only to not be bested by the South Koreans.
The news media's immediate solution to this problem, a salve really, for a gaping national wound, is the TPP. Discussion of bilateral free trade pacts or Amaterasu forbid the Doha round is pushed aside. The TPP, and Japan's having to be on board in time for the Hawaii APEC meeting, is all that anyone in medialand is talking about.
However, on the ground, the forces for and against participation are more than evenly matched. While the manufacturer-heavy and highly influentially Nippon Keidanren business lobby considers participation in the TPP of the highest national importance, an array of equally powerful political players -- farmers cooperatives, the pharmaceutical industry, labor unions -- are against Japan entering into negotiations on the very reasonable basis that once Japan has jumped in it will find it very costly to jump out again, should the content of the trade pact become politically unworkable.
As for the situation in the Diet, the gap between elite-sponsored perceptions of the importance, indeed the inevitability, of the government moving forward on participation in TPP discussions and reality were illustrated in the first open meeting of the Democratic Pary of Japan's Project Team on the TPP. After the members of the project team spoke, the floor was opened up for comment. The first person to pick up the microphone said, in a matter fact tone, "Hello, I am Yamada Masahiko, head of the 181-member group of DPJ Diet legislators opposed to Japan's participating in TPP discussion."
Kerpow! That number, 181, is within shouting distance of 50% of the DPJ's Diet representation. When the breadth and intrusiveness of the partnership agreement is better known, the number of doubters in the Diet is likely to grow.
What is going on, therefore, is a race, with the big business lobby, in collusion with a media complex transfixed by the narrative of Japan's relative decline, pushing hard for Japan's participation, against a range of less flashy, so far less organized and reactionary elements with a strong grip on the elbows of many legislators. The pro-TPP side, citing the looming spectre of the APEC conference and the disappointment the United States will feel should Japan, already in the doghouse over Futenma, ruin President Barack Obama's houseparty not committing to participation in TPP discussions, is trying to panic the anti-TPP side into surrendering to the TPP's inexorable force.
Will the pro-TPP fail in bum rushing the other side? Probably. They got a big boost from the KORUS receiving U.S. Senate ratification. There are no further big boosts on the horizon, and with every passing day, the arguments of those opposed to TPP participation get sharper and the ranks of persons aware of the challenges freer trade may pose grow more numerous.
Then again, there is nothing like the possibility that the South Koreans will run right past Japan economically to get Japanese minds focused on getting back into the fast lane.
Later - Yes, of course Masahiko Yamada is a former Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Did one even have to ask?