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Conclusion of TPP talks unlikely before April

  • 2015-03-02 15:00:00
  • , Nikkei
  • Translation

(Nikkei: March 1, 2015 – p. 3)


 The conclusion of negotiations for the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is likely to be delayed until April instead of March, as originally planned. This is because of the delay in the U.S. Congress’s deliberations on granting trade promotion authority (TPA) to President Barack Obama in the TPP talks. Since the TPP accord may coincide with the simultaneous local elections in April, the government and the ruling parties are nervous about the farmers’ votes.


 Japan and the U.S. are aiming at concluding the TPP talks before the planned visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the U.S. during the Golden Week holidays from last April to early May. It is believed that the two leaders want to set the TPP as the centerpiece of enhanced economic relations at their summit meeting.


 The original scenario was to have Economic Revitalization Minister Akira Amari and USTR Michael Froman conclude the bilateral talks, which hold the key to the overall TPP accord, in February, thus facilitating a TPP agreement when the ministers of the 12 participating countries meet in March. However, the two countries remain apart on the question of tariffs on agricultural products and autos, while the 12 TPP nations continue to differ seriously on intellectual property rights and reform of state-run enterprises.


 An added complication is uncertainty in passing the bill to grant TPA to Obama. TPA gives the President power to seek congressional approval or rejection on trade deals without amendment. Without TPA, the TPP deal may be revised extensively, so this is a prerequisite for reaching a TPP agreement.


 Japan had hoped that Congress deliberation on the TPA bill would be completed in February, but the bill has not even been submitted. A senior Japanese government official now thinks that “the fate of the TPP will depend on TPA.” Any political compromise will become difficult in 2016, when the campaign for the next presidential election will be in full swing. It is necessary for a TPP agreement to be reached this spring for it to get ratified within this year.


 The chief negotiators of the 12 countries will meet in Hawaii from March 9-15 to try to break the stalemate. A source on the talks expresses serious concern that “if an accord is deferred any further because of the simultaneous local elections in Japan, it will be impossible to sign a TPP accord under the Obama administration, so the talks will be in limbo.”


 Meanwhile, certain ruling party members think that “it is better for the conclusion of the talks to be delayed until after the local elections in May.” The LDP avoids the TPP issue in its campaign pledges for the local elections. The candidate endorsed by the ruling parties had just lost to the incumbent governor supported by the agricultural cooperatives in the Saga gubernatorial election in January. A mid-ranking LDP Diet member is alarmed that “the impact of the TPP issue on the election will be more serious than agricultural cooperative reform.” (Slightly abridged)

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