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How A Feeble Joke At A Party Derailed Japan's Ratification Of TPP At The Last Moment


Since both US presidential candidates have said that they are against TPP — whether they mean it, is another matter — the Pacific trade deal has rather dropped off the political radar. But the US is not the only country that needs to ratify the deal: most of the other 11 countries participating need to do the same if it is to come into force. Because of the size of its economy, the critical one is Japan. But something rather strange has just happened: where it looked certain that country would ratify TPP this week, it has now been postponed. A story in The Japan Times explains the sequence of events that led up to this surprising twist:

While attending an Oct. 18 party organized by Tsutomu Sato, chairman of the Lower House Committee on Rules and Administration, [Japan’s farm minister] Yamamoto had blurted out, “It’s up to Mr. Sato to decide whether to forcibly pass the [TPP] bill.”

Yamamoto’s undemocratic suggestion that the TPP bill could be steamrolled through the Diet [Japan’s bicameral legislature] immediately ignited the ire of opposition lawmakers, recalling an earlier blunder by a different LDP lawmaker who said in September that he wanted to realize the “forcible” passage of the bill.

As a result of Yamamoto’s ill-advised comment, the special committee tasked with TPP deliberations did not adopt the relevant bill. That, in its turn, meant the bill could not be sent to to the ruling coalition-controlled Lower House plenary session on Friday for a last-minute approval before the US election. Here’s why the Japanese government was so keen to make that deadline:

Tokyo was desperate to pass the bill through the Lower House plenary session before [US] Election Day. Such a decisive legislative step, the government hoped, would send a powerful message that Japan has no intention of accepting a request for renegotiations from the U.S. side.

Given the government majority, it seems likely that the TPP bill will finally pass at some point in the near future. But the fact that a rather unfunny joke was able to throw a spanner in the works even at this late stage shows that when it comes to trade deals, things aren’t over until they are over, as the recent CETA saga also indicates.

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