Friday, October 28, 2011

Going Nowhere Faster and Faster

The outlook for the Democratic Party of Japan's convincing members of the Diet and the general public of the necessity of Japan's being at the Trans Pacific Partnership table grows darker and darker. Tonight Yamada Masahiko, the former agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister who is leading the charge within the party against Japan's participation in TPP talks, claimed that he had the support of 202 members of the DPJ's Diet delegation (and, for good measure, 224 members of the former DPJ-led three-way coalition). If his claim is accurate, the government and the leadership of the DPJ hold a razor-thin 7 vote majority of DPJ members ready to support Japan's committing itself to participation in TPP negotiations.

If the government of Noda Yoshihiko seeks a silver lining in the present massing dark clouds, it would be in the weaker participation of DPJ members in the petition drive sponsored by the Central Union of Agriculture Cooperatives (Zenchu). Only 120 DPJ members crossed party lines and linked arms with members of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito to provide Zenchu with 356 names on its petition (for the full list in Japanese, click here).

Still, 120 members is more than a quarter of the DPJ's Diet membership.

What is so nonsensical about the weakness of the DPJ leadership's efforts is that the tail is really wagging the dog here -- and it is an LDP tail to boot. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries, the interest group that simply will not budge on the TPP (How could rice farmers survive minus the 778% tariff protecting them?) produces but a tiny fraction of Japan's GDP. As for the Japan Medical Association (Ishikai) it was and is a paid-in bastion of LDP support.

That members of the Cabinet or DPJ supporters of TPP participation are not out in front of the TV cameras every day, explaining the benefits of the pact for the majority of the citizenry, demonstrates that two years and three prime ministers in, the DPJ executive still does not understand what it takes to lead a government and a country.

Everyone is focusing now on Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko and his stated preference to push TPP acceptance forward (en). Noda-san has so far charmed the Diet, the news media and the nation with an easy-going manner and a conciliatory stance. Admirers and critics alike have likened his leadership style that of a safe driver on the road. Just how these qualities are going to help him pull the TPP rabbit out of the hat, if he even cares about deploying them, remains a question.

A huge question.


Jan Moren said...

Without saying anything at all about the greater picture:

"How could rice farmers survive minus the 778% tariff protecting them?"

One independent investigation two years ago found the production cost of Japanese rice to be within 10% of imported rice. Combine with the acute brand awareness regarding rice among Japanese consumers (who happily shell out twice or three times the price of the cheapest variants) and the reality is that rice farmers would likely stand to gain through the TPP through greater export opportunities.

The big losers are mostly among fruit farmers. But fruit - as opposed to grain - is generally excepted to a large degree even among existing TPP deals already.

In any case, the way things are going, Japanese farming as practised today will be done and over with within the next generation no matter what. Proactive changes now would cause much less disruption than fait-accompli twenty years down the road, but it doesn't seem to be in anybody's interest to acknowledge it, unfortunately.

wonderer said...

but i wonder if the DPJ leadership even knows itself what the benefits would be. i mean, i don't think they do. i think the FM\USA has told them what they want and they aren't really asking for more information than that. but i do wonder what are the proposed benefits of free trade for japan.

i keep hearing about the TPP as a way to reform agriculture, but do you need to do something that removes all tariffs just to do that?

won't free trade just mean a loss of jobs to overseas competition that doesnt have to deal with the expenses of japanese workplace safety standards and wages that reflect the japanese standard of living? goods will be cheaper to import than produce domestically?

the fact that the government isnt out there trying to sell the positives of this makes me wonder if they even understand what they're trying to do and if there are any positives for voters\consumers and not producers to begin with.