TPPと国会 承認ありきは許されぬ

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 6
EDITORIAL: Abe must not be allowed to rush Diet approval of TPP accord
(社説)TPPと国会 承認ありきは許されぬ
The Lower House has started deliberating a draft approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) accord and a bill to revise all 11 related laws.

Ever since the World Trade Organization fell into dysfunction, bilateral and multilateral agreements on free trade and economic cooperation have propelled market liberalization.

The TPP, in particular, has 12 signatories from the Asia-Pacific region, which leads the global economy, and their combined gross domestic product represents 40 percent of the world total. Japan, which continues to languish under sluggish economic growth, pins considerable hopes on what this accord could bring.

The TPP is called a “21st century-type” accord because it covers matters concerning intellectual property, the environment and labor, in addition to the elimination and reduction of tariffs and the liberalization of capital investment. But since the accord is expected to affect many industry sectors and the people’s lives in all sorts of ways, grave concerns and questions have been raised, not to mention stiff opposition.

The Diet, which represents the people, has the responsibility to address these concerns through debate. We hope each political party will base its stance and proposals on the protection of consumer interests.

One disturbing factor is the unmistakable eagerness of the government and the ruling coalition to approve the TPP during the current Diet session.

All TPP 12 signatories signed the accord in February, but each country must secure the approval of its national assembly and complete all necessary procedures for the accord to take effect. Under the TPP rules, the completion of such procedures by the United States and Japan--the two leading nations--is indispensable.

But the United States is currently in the middle of its primaries season, and the front-runner presidential candidates--both Democratic and Republican--are negative toward the TPP. The prevalent thinking in America is that Congress will not approve the accord until after election day in November.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe positions the TPP as one of the pillars of its “Abenomics” economic policy. The prime minister enthuses, “Japan will take the lead to speed up the accord’s approval.” But hasty Diet deliberations must not be allowed.

And if Abe is hoping to quickly settle this matter in view of the Upper House election this summer and the possibility of holding a Lower House election on the same day, he has his priorities completely wrong.

The main opposition Democratic Party is poised to focus on issues related to the reduction and elimination of tariffs on farm and fisheries products.

Three years ago, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Committee of the Upper House as well as the Lower House voted to ensure careful handling of this matter regarding rice and four other items of greatest importance. But the Democratic Party must refrain from obsessing on whether these five items are protected under the TPP accord. The party must try not to lose sight of the big picture.

Ample information is necessary to ensure thorough discussions. The government has finally agreed to disclose records of meetings between U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Akira Amari, former minister in charge of TPP negotiations, but the documents have been extensively blacked out. The government must do its best to disclose information.

We also demand anew that Amari explain the bribery suspicion he is under. If this is difficult now because of his poor health, this is all the more reason not to rush into approving the TPP accord.

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