Press Release – Professor Jane Kelsey

Newly elected Prime Minister Abe is expected to announce next week that Japan has formally asked to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPPA) negotiations, ending more than a year of on-again, off-again speculation11 March 2013

Immediate release

Despite the hype, New Zealand won’t want Japan participating in the TPPA talks

Newly elected Prime Minister Abe is expected to announce next week that Japan has formally asked to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPPA) negotiations, ending more than a year of on-again, off-again speculation, according to Professor Jane Kelsey, who is in Singapore observing the latest round of TPPA negotiations.

‘There will be a flurry of claims that Japan’s announcement brings the TPPA a step closer to achieving a gold standard Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific. That glosses over the realities’, said Professor Kelsey.

‘US President Obama wants to conclude the deal in October this year. There is no way that Japan can get to the table by then unless the US remakes the rules’, according to Professor Kelsey. She noted it took more than a year before Canada and Mexico were approved to participate at the Auckland round, and Japan’s entry is much more complicated.

Asking to join is the first step in a long and fraught process. The Abe government will have to convince each of the 11 existing parties it can deliver on their principal areas interest in the face of mass protests, threats of an internal ruling party revolt and an upper house election in July.  His party’s platform pledges to exclude sensitive products such as rice, beef, dairy and sugar from the negotiations, issues that have stalled an Australia Japan free trade deal for years.

Like Canada and Mexico, Japan will have to accept everything that has been agreed to date – without being allowed to see the legal text they are accepting.

Once Japan has satisfied all the parties, the US has a further 90-day notification and consultation process to the Congress. Opposition by powerful players like the automobile industry and unions to Japan’s participation will flow onto the floor of the Congress.

‘The New Zealand government will want to talk up Japan’s desire to participate, but it won’t actually want Japan at the table until all the critical issues are resolved’, according to Professor Kelsey.

There are two reasons for that. Japan is a major economy with real negotiating power and many sensitive domestic interests to protect. Its active participation would complicate the negotiations and put the current target of October for political deal making well beyond reach.

‘As importantly for New Zealand, the US has indicated it supports Japan’s call for special treatment of sensitive agricultural products. That would strengthen the US’s own negotiating strategy. After 16 rounds of talks, they are still refusing to discuss substantive market access for New Zealand dairy exports.’

‘At the same time, there is no way that Japan as a major economic and political power would simply sign on to a done deal. Even if they accede to a completed TPPA they will insist that aspects of it are reopened.’

ENDS

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