by Kobo Inamura
Visiting Professor, Chuo University
In May of last year, the magazine Gekkan Nippon (Monthly Japan) published a special issue under the title “Poverty, Disparity and TPP.” The format adopted was a compilation of articles contributed by commentators from various different sectors, who weighed in on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).
I personally submitted an interview conducted with Mahathir Mohamad, former Malaysian prime minister and venerated as one of the “wise men of Asia.” While this special issue pooled a series of laments from opponents of TPP, the developments at the time suggested the high likelihood that the Obama administration would ratify the agreement. As a result, the opinions presented were widely ridiculed as the “last desperate gasps” of losers, “swan songs” too late to make a difference and other cynical metaphors.
The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plunged ahead to advance ratification procedures, with a steady series of concessions promoted through U.S.-Japan bilateral talks also proceeding concurrently with the TPP maneuvering. Last fall, in fact, passage of TPP-related legislation was steamrolled through Japan’s Diet.
From the beginning, however, the negotiation documents were shrouded in mystery. The process amounted to a rigged race in which only a handful of bureaucrats maintained an inside a grasp of the bargaining process. It was major multinational U.S. corporations, in reality, that comprised the driving force behind TPP. The documents involved in the process climbed to a massive 5,554 pages. It is almost certain that no member of the Japanese Diet member read all of those materials. If any lawmakers did make it through those tomes, I certainly wish they would speak up now to that effect. Please understand that I am not attempting to wax sarcastic. With no understanding of the essence of TPP apparent among executives of any economic organizations either, the accountability for this situation should lie in the ranks of such subservient business leaders.
During the U.S. presidential election campaign, both major candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, stressed their opposition to TPP. It appeared to be a done deal, however, that upon victory such pledges would be jettisoned and the agreement pushed through. Clinton, during her days as Secretary of State in the Obama administration, had officially labeled TPP the “gold standard.” Even after Trump emerged victorious, furthermore, there was plausible sounding speculation in the mass media reflecting wishful thinking about keeping TPP alive. This might have been due to the fact that Rex Tillerson, the business executive nominated to serve as Trump’s Secretary of State, had previously come out in support of the deal.
After Prime Minister Abe met with President-elect Trump in New York, however – in fact, on the very day that Abe departed for his next destination of South America – Trump declared the intent to scrap TPP on his very first day in office.
Right after the election results were in, scenes of the victory celebration at Trump Tower in New York were aired on TV. At that time, there was a gray-haired gentleman seen standing off to the right side of the hall. That was Jeff Sessions, a member of the Senate representing the state of Alabama.
In May 2013, Senator Sessions delivered a speech at the University of South Alabama under the theme of “It Is Our Turn.” In that address, he insisted that the U.S. needed to pull out of TPP, much like the “Brexit” move by Britain to leave the European Union. He detailed his view that TPP would usurp America’s national sovereignty. While TPP was being promoted as a trade agreement, he insisted that it was actually a Trojan horse doomed to destroy national sovereignty and effectively render the Congress toothless.
In his scathing talk Sessions also labeled Brexit a wakeup call for America. He proclaimed that global organizations and systems such as the EU or TPP demanded allegiance and sacrifices from American citizens, making it impossible to conduct action-backed decisions.
On May 6, 2015, Senator Sessions issued a letter to President Obama admonishing TPP, and demanding action on the following five points:
(1) While Senators have access to these secret provisions, the same information should also be disclosed to the general public.
(2) What impact will TPP as a whole exert on the trade deficit? In particular, what will happen within America’s bilateral relationships with Japan and Vietnam?
(3) Regarding employment and wages, what are the projections for ups or downs in the manufacturing sector at large; the forecasts for the American automobile industry; prospects for hourly wages to rise or fall?
(4) In the future, will Congressional approval be required for additions of new member nations, including China?
(5) It is demanded that the Congress to able to extend authority for negotiating TPP to the President for six years, accompanied by an unconditional pledge to make no changes in foreign worker immigration or emigration during that period.
On that August 12, Sessions followed this up by issuing a clear statement to the effect that TPP was a blunder and should be vetoed. He warned that TPP was not a simplistic trade agreement, and in fact possessed the potential for the committee comprised of the 12 different nations to exceed U.S. Congressional authority.
This prompts the question of whether any Diet members in Japan emulated Senator Sessions in voicing opposition to TPP on grounds that it was a deviation from the fundamentals of parliamentary democracy?
Much like the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, the practice of having university professors, representatives of global consulting companies, banks, insurance firms and other so-called experts who have not been selected through elections push through policy positions on the strength of seemingly credible discussions has become firmly entrenched in Japan. Under such conditions, it would seem that the National Diet has deteriorated to the point of even losing its ability to engage in debate.
Senator Sessions has been appointed Attorney General under the Trump administration. He likewise emerged as a champion who saved the people of all TPP member countries from the worldwide domination of globalism. This includes the nation and the citizens of Japan, It makes perfect sense, therefore, that the Diet members in Japan, from both government and opposition parties, who adopted courses so subservient to TPP based on faulty projections and judgments, should accept responsibility for those actions.