TPP policy should avoid pork barrel
TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Japan's the ruling parties have begun discussions to draw up related domestic measures on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Following the broad agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, the ruling parties have begun discussions to draw up related domestic measures. The key point will be whether they can devise measures that strengthen global competitiveness, not just pork-barrel measures to protect domestic farmers.
The government intends to decide on November 25 on a policy outline, which will be based on the policy mapped out by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito during their talks.
“The Japanese Communist Party doubled its seats in last Sunday’s Miyagi prefectural assembly election. The party has pledged to smash the TPP agreement, and opposition to the TPP is strong in the prefecture,” said LDP House of Representatives lawmaker Shintaro Ito from Miyagi Constituency No. 4.
Ito described agricultural communities’ reaction to the broad TPP agreement at a joint meeting held Tuesday at LDP headquarters, attended by the party’s Agricultural and Forestry Division and other related sections.
Concerns were expressed during the meeting, especially by lawmakers who were elected from agricultural prefectures, regarding the impact that the TPP agreement would have on the House of Councillors election next year. However, they asked that the LDP come up with domestic measures that were aggressive rather than defensive, to protect domestic farmers.
“It’s important to come up with a strategic scheme so Japanese agriculture can compete in the global market as an export industry,” Ito said.
Lower house member Kenichi Hosoda from Niigata Constituency No. 2 said, “New budgetary measures should be implemented for items that could contribute to structural reform.”
Many people expressed support for an aggressive approach during the meeting, apparently prompted by concern over possible criticism from opposition parties of pork barreling if the ruling parties demand budget allocations aimed at protecting domestic industries.
Learning from the past
Following the joint meeting, the LDP on Thursday held the first meeting of the party’s headquarters for comprehensive measures to deal with TPP affairs, headed by LDP Policy Research Council chief Tomomi Inada. This launched all-party discussions on concrete measures for the domestic agricultural sector.
Komeito started discussions at its TPP task force on Wednesday.
In drawing up measures for the domestic agricultural sector, the government and the ruling parties are bearing in mind lessons from the 1993 Uruguay Round trade agreement under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade framework.
Under that agreement, Japan partially lifted the ban on rice imports, and the government spent a total of ¥6 trillion to assist domestic farmers over eight years. However, some funding was used for things like the construction of hot spring facilities, and there is still deep-rooted criticism that the measures were pork-barrel efforts that did little to enhance the competitiveness of the country’s agricultural sector.
There is a sense of caution among the LDP leadership, as lawmakers representing the interests of the agricultural and fisheries industries will likely increase their pressure for funding as next year’s House of Councillors election approaches.
To prevent intraparty conflict over the issue, the LDP leadership appointed figures representing such lawmakers, including former agriculture minister Koya Nishikawa and former senior vice agricultural minister Mitsuhiro Miyakoshi, to key posts in the party headquarters.
The LDP leadership is also considering using Shinjiro Koizumi, the director of the party’s Agriculture and Forestry Division and a person with strong communicative abilities, as a spokesman to carefully explain to voters about the significance of the TPP.
In early November, Koizumi will lead a team to visit seven places across the country to explain the party’s policy to refrain from excessive pork-barrel measures and public works projects, and instead focus on measures to enhance competitiveness such as quality improvement and cost reduction.
The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan is criticizing the TPP broad agreement by saying it violates the Diet resolution seeking to maintain tariffs on five key categories, such as rice and beef, even though the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Naoto Kan started considering participation in the TPP talks when the DPJ was in power.
The issue is therefore likely to be a point of contention in the upper house election.
Due to a delay in domestic procedures to sign the TPP in the United States, procedures to obtain Diet approval in Japan are expected to start in April or later, after the passage of the government budget for the next fiscal year.
Thinking of the effect on the next upper house election, some LDP lawmakers say the procedures should be postponed to an extraordinary Diet session in autumn next year.
“We are not in a situation where we should quickly present a conclusion at the Diet,” LDP General Council Chairman Toshihiro Nikai said.