10 March 2013
Immediate release

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

Newly elected Prime Minister Abe is expected to announce next week that Japan
has formally asked to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPPA) nego
tiations, ending more than a year of on-again, off-again speculation, accordin
g 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 rule
s’, 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 Japa
n’s entry is much more complicated.

Asking to join is the first step in a long and fraught process. The Abe govern
ment will have to convince each of the 11 existing parties it can deliver on t
heir principal areas interest in the face of mass protests, threats of an inte
rnal ruling party revolt and an upper house election in July. His party’s pla
tform pledges to exclude sensitive products such as rice, beef, dairy and suga
r from the negotiations, issues that have stalled an Australia Japan free trad
e deal for years.

Like Canada and Mexico, Japan will have to accept everything that has been agr
eed 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 notifica
tion and consultation process to the Congress. Opposition by powerful players
like the automobile industry and unions to Japan’s participation will flow on
to the floor of the Congress.

‘The New Zealand government will want to talk up Japan’s desire to participa
te, but it won’t actually want Japan at the table until all the critical issu
es 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 participat
ion would complicate the negotiations and put the current target of October fo
r political deal making well beyond reach.

‘As importantly for New Zealand, the US has indicated it supports Japan’s ca
ll for special treatment of sensitive agricultural products. That would streng
then the US’s own negotiating strategy. After 16 rounds of talks, they are st
ill refusing to discuss substantive market access for New Zealand dairy export

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

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