Monday, March 18, 2013

Blogging About TPP, Straw Man Arguments, And More

If you like writing that is as good as Spike Japan's, you'll be sad to hear he is once again hanging up his hat. He blames Abenomics and other recent events. However, the good news is that Ken and his wonderful garten blog is back! Which is great, because I learnt a lot from his write-ups, and comments, and I'm suddenly in the middle of a similar project... Pandabonium? Not sure, he and his Momo Wonderdog always come up with the best of the best, but all too un-frequently for my taste, so do check out his vast archives. Other fun blogs are truly sayonara, like Mari's Watashi to Tokyo and her cute rants against hello kitty and all sorts of fun stuff that most of us non-natives might have missed. Glad to see that Ten Thousand Things is more active than ever.

Kurashi in its 8 (!) years of history has nowhere near the amount of readers or fans. Be that as it may. Sort of, we try to keep the flag up against the facebook and twitter crowds. If Kurashi manages to continue to fly under the radar, then so be it.

Thusly, the recent TPP debate ought to be something I should delve deeply into, but I fear it is all to complex and chimera-ish or vague at this point. The negotiations are all kept secret, so whatever we may demand, from a public point of view, is secondary. Not very democratic, thus hard to blog intelligently about. Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA) of course is absolutely against. For work, I get paid to help Consumers Union of Japan explain its point of view, and we did point out that Prime Minister Abe has just managed to contradict the election pledge of the LDP in December, 2012, by announcing that he now thinks Japan ought to try and jump (belatedly) into the fray:

Prime Minister Abe has then gone on to talk about formally announcing participation in TPP negotiations during speeches in the Upper and Lower House Parliament sessions on February 28, 2013.

This is in sharp contrast to the LDP election promises during last December’s general election, to oppose Japan’s participation in the TPP negotiations if abolishing tariffs without restriction becomes a precondition. Five conditions were included in LDP’s election manifesto, including protecting the country’s health insurance system, which covers all citizens, and food safety standards, as well as not accepting numerical targets for imports of cars and other manufactured products. LDP also promised it would not liberalize financial services or rules regarding public procurement. The TPP also stipulates a new type of dispute resolution system, known as Investor-state Dispute System (ISD) that will allow foreign corporations or financial investors to sue governments in other countries. The comment by the Prime Minister only five days after his meeting with the US President can only be construed as an absurd violation of LDP’s election promises in key areas.

We regard it as unacceptable that such infringements of the rights of people can be proposed, that will infringe on our lives and all aspects of society. This is related to governance and Japan’s national structure, its politics, and issues related to important national policy-making.

And do note that it is not just farmers in Japan that are angry. Shufuren, Parc, Seikatsu Club, Pal System Coop, Dai-ichi Mamoru Kai, Shin Nihon Fujin Kai, have joined CUJ in protesting against the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP). That is unusual, to say the least. Not just farmers' organizations but also all of the main consumer organizations are against TPP.

If I may just add, Shisaku is one blog I really like, and I like that he is still going strong. And I like that he just pointed out that farmers in Japan have a lot of traditions and culture to protect:

- Commentators about Japan's entering into Trans Pacific Partnership discussions not talking about the recalcitrance of Japanese farmers and starting to talk about the recalcitrance of U.S. light truck manufacturer executives and workers. At least Japanese farmers have the traditional rural environment and culture fig leaves to hide behind.

Here at Kurashi we think we owe a lot to Japanese farmers, for the wonderful food we can enjoy on these shores. Even a small izakaya will serve you a meal with freshly harvested veggies, local rice and miso soup from Hokkaido soybeans. My 2009 book was all about that heritage, and the safety of it all, and the importance of food self-sufficiency, if you don't prefer more imported corn syrup in your diet. Remind me how many Michelin star restaurants we can count here in Japan...? If I can add one thing to Dr. Cucek's points, it is this:

- Stop calling Japanese farmers "inefficient" (from a global trade perspective) as they are amazingly diverse and in touch with the local crops that grow in each season, and having a great sense of biological diversity, compared to North American or Australian farmers, with their vast farm areas, that require pesticide applications by airplanes ("crop dusting") or genetically modified crops (patented by Monsanto, mostly).

Finally, I was encouraged by the post over at East Asia Forum, where the normally Japan-critical trade expert, Aurelia George Mulgan, asks, Will Prime Minister Abe’s TPP strategy be successful?

She cleverly picks Abe's plan apart, noting that he set up a straw man argument:

Abe’s two-stage political strategy for achieving Japan’s entry into the TPP negotiations has now been revealed. First, he wanted the recent summit with President Obama to deliver some kind of statement that exceptions to tariff abolition were possible, which would enable him to honour the election pledge of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on the TPP whilst at the same time opening the door to Japan’s participation. Second, he wanted to use the summit’s achievement as leverage to persuade the members of his own party to accept participation and have the ruling party entrust him to make the decision to join the talks.
Abe appeared to overcome the first hurdle in his meeting with Obama. The wording of their joint statement read: ‘The two Governments confirm that should Japan participate in the TPP negotiations, all goods would be subject to negotiation’ and that ‘as the final outcome will be determined during the negotiations, it is not required to make a prior commitment to unilaterally eliminate all tariffs upon joining the TPP negotiations’.
A superficial reading of this statement would suggest that Japan could enter the TPP negotiations without violating the LDP’s election pledge. However, there never was a requirement for participants in the TPP talks to make a prior commitment to unilaterally eliminate all tariffs. The statement set up a straw man, misrepresenting the TPP in order to eliminate a domestic political obstacle facing Abe.

Then of course we have all the usual main stream news in the local media:


The Governor of Hokkaido has urged the government to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks if the trade pact is likely to negatively affect farming, forestry and fisheries. These are the northernmost prefecture's main industries.
Governor Harumi Takahashi along with Hokkaido assembly members and farm organization representatives made the appeal to agriculture, forestry and fisheries industry minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Monday.

Takahashi said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's announcement last week that Japan's is joining the talks is extremely regrettable. She said the negative impacts of the pact would be concentrated on Hokkaido and other rural regions. Hayashi responded that the government will do all it can to protect the nation's interests, maintaining withdrawal as an option.

Meanwhile, a group of farm and fisheries organizations in Iwate, northern Japan, have called on the prefectural governor to urge the government to retract its decision on the TPP talks. Governor Takuya Tasso said the prefecture also considers it regrettable that the government announced the decision despite the prefecture's calls for caution and the full disclosure of information.



Jiji Press/ Yomiuri: LDP panel seeks TPP exceptions for 5 items

A Liberal Democratic Party panel has adopted a resolution asking the government to ensure that rice and four other items will be treated as exceptions to the basic principle of tariff elimination under the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact. The resolution, adopted Wednesday at a plenary meeting of the ruling party panel on issues related to the TPP, effectively marks the LDP's approval of the nation's participation in the ongoing U.S.-led multilateral talks. But it also said the government should consider quitting the talks if it decides the proposed exceptions to the tariff elimination rule are unlikely to be secured. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will likely hold a news conference Friday to announce the country's participation in TPP talks. In a document attached to the resolution, the LDP panel said the five items for which tariffs should be maintained are rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products, and plants for making sweeteners. The resolution said the government must make clear the degree to which people's lives will be affected if the country participates in the TPP, and present to the public a clear policy on how to protect the nation's interests and provide sufficient information. Noting that the public is divided over whether Japan should join the TPP negotiations, the resolution said the prime minister needs to make an important decision on the matter by fully taking various opinions into account.

I also agree with this commentary by James R. Simpson over at The Japan Times: TPP a risky venture for Japan

If tariff levels are set much lower, Japan will have crossed a bridge with no return, and it will be a prisoner to one system. While loss of human, capital and other resources are an integral aspect of “trade prisoner risk,” a very real problem is the potential for disruptions in securing specialized commodities and products such as Japonica rice as well as a host of foods that are not traded internationally or may ultimately be available only from a low-cost neighboring country specializing in it. Not to denigrate China, but what happens if the producing country suddenly becomes bellicose with the other and halts food shipments or shuts off exports due to production problems? The solution for Japan is to strongly support the LDP resolution on national interests and, for very sound economic and social reasons, to strongly back Japan’s multifunctional agriculture based on a system of small and medium-size farms.

Here is what I had to say in an interview with the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Tokyo:

To TTP or not to TTP
The CUJ and many other NGOs and NPOs are opposed to Japan joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which involves eliminating trade barriers and importing more food produced at lower cost elsewhere. Frid finds these lines of argument dangerous for a country that already imports some 60% of its food and exports only little. “Joining the TPP would mean a collapse of the backbone of the farming industry in Japan.”










1 comment:

Pandabonium said...

Excellent post on this most important topic. Thank you. The rich and the industrial sectors hope for some benefit from TPP, but it would come at the expense of small, local business especially farmers. Overarching it all is a monetary agreement which would allow capital to flow freely from one country to another, allowing the bankers (JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, et al) to wreak havoc with their interest rate and derivatives plays. We can look forward to more financial destruction such as we have seen in many European countries as now being played out in Cyprus.

Austerity measures combined with agriculture collapse is not a happy picture in my book.

I don't think more cars and LCD screens is what Japan or the world really needs now.