Ahead of Trump talks, Japan’s Shinzo Abe admits TPP trade deal hits difficulties
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe admitted on Monday that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact is in trouble after last week’s election of TPP opponent Donald Trump as the next US president, but said he will drive home his views on free trade in a meeting with Trump later this week.
“To be frank, I recognise that [the TPP] has hit difficult circumstances,” Abe told a session of a special upper house committee deliberating the pact. “But that doesn’t mean it’s over,” he said.
The upper house is deliberating the TPP with a view to getting it approved before the current Diet session ending November 30 – something Abe has refused to abandon despite narrowing odds the pact will make it to ratification in the United States, the biggest market among the 12 signatories.
Mitch McConnell, Republican leader of the US Senate, has already ruled out a vote on the pact before Trump is sworn in on January 20, and a senior White House official indicated on Friday that US President Barack Obama will no longer press Congress on the issue.
Obama had previously said he would strive to get the trade deal ratified before the end of his term, but that was before US voters defied most polls to pick Trump over Democrat and general free trade proponent Hillary Clinton in last week’s election.
“Now, amid a change of government in the United States, is the time for our country to take the lead in bringing [the TPP] into force quickly,” Abe said.
During the campaign, Trump said he would pull the United States out of the TPP as soon as he takes office on January 20, criticising it and other multilateral trade pacts and saying the United States should focus on negotiating bilateral deals.
Katsuyuki Kawai, one of Abe’s special advisers, left Japan on Monday to meet Trump’s team and lay the groundwork for Abe’s meeting on Thursday with the president-elect.
“I will directly tell those at the centre of the new administration of Prime Minister Abe’s desire to quickly build a personal relationship of trust with President-elect Trump,” Kawai told reporters at Narita airport near Tokyo. Abe has said it is Japan’s “calling” to be the first signatory to ratify the pact signed in February. According to analysts, China – notably absent from the TPP – could have more sway over trade rules in the Asia-Pacific Region if the pact fails.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump spoke for the first time Monday, agreeing in a telephone call to hold talks as soon as possible, according to Chinese state-run media.
The upper house special committee on the TPP dug into deliberations on the pact on Monday after it was introduced to a plenary session on Friday. The bill to ratify the pact had passed the lower house the day prior. Japan’s opposition parties, some of which walked out on the lower house vote, have questioned the wisdom of continuing the push to ratify the TPP given uncertainty over whether it will ever come into force.
The government’s top spokesman said Monday that Tokyo will not change its stance on the deal, dismissing the idea floated by Mexico that the other 11 signatories could go forward without the participation of the United States.
Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told Reuters news agency last Thursday that the signatories could discuss changing a clause in the pact that prevents it from being brought into force without US ratification.
“For [Japan], there is no way that we will change our existing thinking,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference. Abe said on Monday that he will also tell Trump his thoughts on economic, diplomatic and security issues. Trump claimed during his election campaign that Japan and other US allies are not paying enough for the costs of stationing the US military overseas.