TPP jitters spur protest statements

70% of local governments upset

Kyodo News

A total of 46 local assemblies have adopted statements to express opposition to or caution in participating in a U.S.-backed Pacific free-trade initiative, a survey indicated Sunday.

The figure, which represents about 70 percent of prefectural assemblies and ordinance-designated major city assemblies in the country, indicates farming regions are concerned the central government might decide to join negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement without sufficient domestic debate.

Of the 46 local assemblies, 14 issued statements expressing clear opposition, including the Hokkaido Prefectural Assembly, the Sapporo City Assembly and the Niigata City Assembly.

The remaining 32 called for caution. Some called for a national consensus on the matter. Others want the central government to come up with a plan to prop up the agricultural sector.

Farmers fear that joining the TPP pact will allow cheap farm imports to flood the domestic market and that they will be unable to compete.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said earlier this month that he wants to decide whether to join the TPP negotiations around June, when the government plans to come up with a basic policy on how to sharpen the competitiveness of Japan’s farm sector.

Among those assemblies calling for caution, the Gifu Prefectural Assembly said, “It is also a fact that many think that participation (in the TPP talks) is essential,” since Japan has prospered from trade.

“Considering such opinions, we do not reject the possibility of accepting participation in the TPP, based on the condition that an environment to protect domestic agriculture from the impact of free trade would be fully created,” the statement said.

Some local assemblies criticized the handling of the issue.

The Hyogo Prefectural Assembly, for example, said the government was “abrupt” in announcing that it would consider joining the negotiations.

The number of statements could rise.

The TPP originated as a free-trade agreement among Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. Negotiations are now under way to expand the framework by including other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, such as major agriculture exporters Australia and the United States.

It is intended to require all member countries in principle to reduce all tariffs to zero within 10 years, but Japan has a long-standing reluctance to open up its agricultural market.

However, with the United States said to be seeking to conclude negotiations for the pact in November, Japan apparently does not have much time to ponder the issue.