(Yomiuri: July 23, 2015 – p. 4)
A Liberal Democratic Party parliamentary league aimed at protecting the national interest is planning to submit to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a letter of resolution opposing easy concessions in the 12-country negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact. Meanwhile, voices within the party are spreading to secure funds for protecting domestic agriculture. Moves within the party are perking up, with a particular focus on political developments after the conclusion of the trade deal.
About 110 members of the parliamentary league, who take a cautious stance on the TPP, met on July 22 and expressed concerns about an early conclusion of the free-trade pact. Fears are rife that public support for the cabinet may sag depending on the content of a TPP agreement and that the LDP may take a big hit in House of Councillors elections, which will be held next summer.
Participants called the content of an initially prepared resolution “insufficient” and revised it to demand the government negotiate the TPP with the determination to withdraw from the deal if the Diet resolution to maintain tariffs on five key farm products, including rice and wheat, cannot be kept intact. Taku Eto, head of the parliamentary league, will present it to Abe on July 23.
Measures that the government will implement after the conclusion of the TPP are also drawing a great deal of attention. If the deal is finalized at a ministerial meeting later this month, the government will start looking into steps to be taken to protect domestic agriculture. The focus will be on how much money should be earmarked in the budget to protect domestic farmers.
The government identifies the TPP as a pillar of its growth strategy, but the deal will expose domestic farmers to sever competition from cheap foreign products. “Measures that can convince farmers will be necessary,” said a mid-ranking party member, with an eye on next summer’s Upper House election.
When Japan partially opened its market for rice imports under the Uruguay Round agreement signed in 1993, the government allocated about 6 trillion yen over a period of eight years. LDP members who lobby on behalf of agriculture have already informed senior officials of the Ministry of Finance that they need to secure amounts equivalent to what the government doled out under the Uruguay Round deal.
A tug-of-war between the government and the ruling parties over budget allocations will likely intensify down the road.