Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Is the TransPacific Partnership Being Brought Back From the Dead?

With a new Republican Congress, and Obama himself a Republican who occasionally wears Democratic clothing, the Administration is making noise that the TransPacific Partnership and its ugly sister, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, are moving forward in a serious way.

But the Administration tried that sort of messaging last year to keep up a sense of inevitability about these regulation-gutting, mislabeleed trade deals, when reality was very different. Democrats, joined by a not-trivial block of Republicans, revolted due to the unheard levels of secrecy being maintained around the deal (for instance, the Administration refused to provide current versions of draft language) as well as, for many of them, what they had inferred about the content.

Needless to say, the Republican majorities may well change that dynamic. But what about the considerable opposition for the TransPacific Partnership’s hoped-for foreign signatories, particularly Japan? You’d think the negotiations were full steam ahead based on a Japan Times article last week, Japan, U.S. target reaching broad TPP agreement at March meet. Key sections:
Japan and the United States have agreed that 12 countries discussing a Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal should hold a ministerial meeting in the first half of March to reach a broad agreement, informed sources said on Friday… 
Japanese and U.S. officials signaled that the two sides narrowed gaps over auto trade, during the latest Tokyo session. Deputy chief TPP negotiator Hiroshi Oe said he strongly feels that the United States is serious about concluding talks successfully. 
But Japan and the United States remain apart over farm trade. Elsewhere in the broader TPP talks, the United States and emerging market economies such as Malaysia are in dispute over intellectual property protection.
Yves here. If you read the text closely, there is less here than meets the eye. The two sides have agreed to talk again. And Oe’s remark is wonderfully ambiguous. It’s only about US eagerness, not about where the Japanese are.

We decided to check in with NC’s man in Tokyo, Clive. His report:
There’s been some on-and-off speculation in the Japanese press about what U.S. lawmakers in the post-midterms Congress could or couldn’t do, might or mightn’t do, how it does change the prospects for TransPacific Partnership, how it leaves things much as they were… and so on. As you’d expect with speculation on that subject, you never get any definitive conclusions. But once in a while you get pieces like the Japan Times’ one rehashing the “U.S. really wants to conclude a deal very soon” line – but without saying why the long-standing areas of disagreement might magically be resolved. 
And for each vaguely encouraging article which is in the JP media, you get several ones like this from last Friday’s Mainichi newspaper which is representative of a now increasingly downbeat set of reports appearing. The headline reads “TPP: For an Agreement, the US is ‘Really Serious’… Furthermore Japan Shares a Sense of Impending Crisis” which sets the negative tone for what is drawn out in the remainder. The feature goes on to explain that the well understood areas of disagreement between the U.S. and Japan in the TPP negotiations such as agriculture remain unresolved and quotes Japanese negotiators again trotting out the familiar phrases saying that “more serious problems remain, there is still considerable [negotiating] work to do”. 
Once you go outside of Japan’s MSM (where verifiable facts get, um, a bit thinner on the ground – but of course that can often be where the real stories can be found!) the TPP negotiations are being reported as being in an even more dire impasse. The Iza news blog – amongst many others – had this from late December last year which is credited to the Sankei newspaper (a reasonably respectable outlet) which then dropped the story and is no longer listed in its online archive, but it was still carried extensively in the news aggregator sites. The article says that Japan’s chief negotiator Amari reportedly shouted at USTR Froman “Japan isn’t a vassal state of the U.S.!” (which I’d also translate as “Japan isn’t a U.S. colony”) with the December TPP negotiation meeting turning into a right old slanging match – real handbags at dawn stuff. Some very unkind things were apparently said about Froman and his “negotiating” “skills”. 

I’d say that the Japan Times story is more an attempt by official channels (either in the U.S. or Japan – or perhaps both) at damage limitation to counter the increasingly dire stories leaking out about the level that the TransPacific Partnership negotiations have sunk to than anything to be taken too seriously.
Even though the degree to which Froman has overplayed his hand is turning out to be a huge benefit to US citizens, relying on his continued ineptitude is still taking a risk. When you have time, please call or write your Representative and Senators and tell them how you and people you know are clued into how terrible the TransPacific Partnership is. Remind them it will be used to weaken banking regulations and you don’t want them to be approving pro-bailout policies by supporting the TTP and the TTIP. 


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