The conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP) spearheaded by the US could have profound and far-reaching implications for Japan in economic and strategic terms.
As Tanaka Hitoshi, a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official who represented his country throughout the US-Japan negotiations for the TPP, put it in his article in Diamond Online, one of Japan’s most influential financial magazines, in April 2013, “As far as the future of Japan, the US-Japan alliance, the East Asian and the entire Asia-Pacific region are concerned, TPP means high-risk, high-return investments.
“Whether or not these investments will bear fruit will determine the future of Japan.
“And Japan may once again resume strategic leadership in East Asia if it can make significant contributions to the TPP while it is still in its infancy and use it as a tool to revitalize its economy.”
However, Tokyo’s decision to join the TPP as a founding member has been met with a mixed response from the Japanese public, particularly the agricultural and medical sectors, whose main concerns are that their interests might be threatened, as Japan may have to import foreign labor under the TPP and demand for domestic products might fall as a result of increased foreign imports.
To address the concerns of the agricultural sector, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has promised that its interests will be fully taken care of.
After all, farmers have long been the support base for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the post-war years.
Under the final TPP agreement, Japan agrees to increase the amount of imported duty-free American rice by 70,000 tons per year, in exchange for the abolition by the United States of the 2.5 percent import tax on Japanese car parts.
In the meantime, the Abe administration has also pledged to increase subsidies for local farmers.
Another sector in Japan that might be affected is the comics and animation industry.
Some are worried that the rigorous intellectual property requirements laid down by the TPP might put Japanese comics writers and animation producers who specialize in parody or derivative works at legal risk.
However, as the Nikkei reported earlier, the TPP final agreement of the TPP has already relaxed certain copyright requirements for Japan.
A survey conducted by Asahi Shimbun in June showed the Japanese public remains split on the TPP.
Among them, 40 percent are in favour of the agreement, while 37 percent are against and 23 percent undecided.
However, as long as Abe’s administration can manage to twist the arm of those who are still skeptical and swing public opinion its way by ginning up the “China threat” element, Japan’s full integration into the US-led trade alliance is almost a foregone conclusion.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 28.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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