Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The July Trade Deficit And The Green Movement

While in June, Japan's trade surplus, despite a 24.5% year-on-year increase in the imports of liquified natural gas for power generation, was 60 billion yen -- a minor decline from June 2011, when it was 64 billion yen (J). In the year to June, however, Japan's trade deficit was 2.9 trillion yen, up 103% from the previous 6 month span and greater than the trade deficit for all of 2011. Fuel imports were up 21% in the first 6 months of this year, with LNG imports up a hefty 49.4%. (J)

The trade deficit in July, however, is likely to be even more stunning. With utilities and independent power producers possibly trying to stock up before the worst days of summer, the deficit for just the first half of July was a colossal 368 billion yen. Given unceasing heat waves this blessed land has experience over the second half of this month, it would not surprise if the deficit in July is greater than one quarter of the deficit over the first half of the year. (J)

Headlines regarding a massive importation and burning of fossil fuels for electric power generation will certain provide grist for the mills of those who wish to disparage the anti-nuclear movement. It will be hard to argue for a cessation of the use of nuclear power generation, as the Green Party, established on Saturday, has demanded (J) in this atmosphere. In light of Japan's burgeoning LNG addiction, absolutism about nuclear power is likely to garner the mockery of the news media, the Noda government and the industrial establishment.

The Green Party (Midori no to -- not to be confused with Midori no kaze, the four woman, anti-nuclear, anti-TPP caucus in the House of Councillors) hopes to run district and party list candidates in next summer's House of Councillors election. As for the next House of Representatives election, whenever it is held, the Greens hope to present a list of candidates for the proportional election, while possibly lending support to the candidates of existing and like-thinking parties in the districts.

The existence of a third anti-nuclear party in the proportional voting is bad, bad news for both the SDP and LF. The SDP could conceivably fall beneath the five Diet-member limit for a party eligible for public elections funds. With Green support, however, some of the SDP members fighting for district seats might gain an edge.

Unlike the SDP, the LF has enough viable candidates in the district seats that the Green Party's participation in a House of Representatives election does not pose an existential threat. Nevertheless the LF, with its opportunistic rather than ideological stance against nuclear power, has to worry about a Green Party's whittling votes in the proportional race. The LF's sizable proportional seat contingent in the House of Representatives could face annihilation.

The Greens set out with significant barriers to their affecting policies in the way the party wishes. They will have a hard time fighting an image of anti-nuclear fanaticism. They will also splinter the anti-nuclear movement, paradoxically serving the interests of the moderately-pro-nuclear ruling Democratic Party and the strongly pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party.

By the time Hashimoto Toru's Osaka Ishin no kai enters the ring, assuming Hashimoto Toru emerges from his current funk (J) and assuming Hashimoto still wishes to take on national politics after the parties in the Diet went on their knees yesterday, promising to transform Osaka Prefecture into a Metropolitan District by the end of August (J) -- and given Hashimoto's pragmatic "opposed but oh well we need it right now" approach to nuclear power --the importance of the Greens to national politics will become somewhat clearer.

In Sunday's Yamaguchi Prefecture gubernatorial election, Hashimoto's anti-nuclear advisor Iida Tetsuya Tetsunari, campaigning against the completion of the Kaminoseki nuclear power station, finished a respectable second in a field of four, garnering an impressive 35% of the vote to 48% for the LDP-New Komeito backed winning candidate.

Iida's second-place finish and receipt of over a third of the vote was particularly impressive given he had only been in the race for a month; had no formal organization when he started; was practically a carpet bagger (he has not lived in the prefecture for 35 years); Yamaguchi is absolutely dominated by the LDP; and a former DPJ member was one of the other three candidates running.

Now interpreting the results as indicative of a strong anti-nuclear allergy, even the most conservative and public works-dependent of prefectures, might be premature. Nearly 50% of the public nationwide allies itself with no particular political party, meaning that a powerful anti-all established parties feeling already exists in the electorate. Both the LDP-New Komeito-back candidate and the former DPJ member candidates could have also been victims of an anti-MV-22 Osprey backlash, the controversial aircraft having been deployed last week to the U.S. Marine Corps base in Iwakuni.

The high percentage of the total vote Iida received may have also been aided by the low overall voter turnout. Gubernatorial elections have of late had notoriously low turnouts. Sunday's contest was no exception, attracting only attracted 45.32% of the electorate -- the second lowest percentage ever for the normally politically charged prefecture. (J)

Just what percentage of votes a protest candidate like Iida would win in a national contest, when participation numbers are much higher, is at best unclear.

However, it can be argued that Iida's participation likely sparked interest in what was going to be a lackluster contest, increasing voter participation. If slates of outsider candidates can lure to the polls those who would otherwise toss away their ballots, the LDP and the DPJ, but particulary the DPJ, will be in serious straits. The Noda government's rollout of the Oi reactor restarts was a fiasco, energizing as if with a lightning strike the previously somnolent anti-nuclear movement. All the DPJ, even those favoring a nuclear phase-out, are tarred with the brush of the Noda government's impossibly quick determination of the safety of the Oi reactors.

So what will be the color of the revolution, or at least this iteration of it?

Later - Here is the Nihon Keizai Shimbun report on the preliminary July first half trade figures making the same guess I did above. (J - WARNING - link rot sets in fast)

Much later - Many thanks to reader MP for his alert reading of this post.

1 comment:

Troy said...

yeah, the interplay between Japan's almost-idle ~50 trillion capital investment in fission plants, its import cost of replacement energy sources, and the long hot summer, the continued endaka, and Japan's overall $3T global net capital position is very interesting.

368 billion yen sounds like a lot, but the latest mfh.txt shows Japan owned $1.1T of USTs in May, up $224B over the TTM -- the ¥368B is 2% of that rise.

We forget that Japan is not really a "poor" country, LOL. Richest in the world, actually.

But the ownership structure of its wealth is . . . complicated.