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Japan wants to join TPP; North American trade activists look ahead to possible Canadian round

| March 19, 2013
Source: Japan Times

A 16th round of Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade and investment negotiations wrapped up this week in Singapore. Canada and Mexico were there for a second time, and now Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants a seat at the table. If the United States eventually accepts Japan's participation, under the similarly less-than-equal terms that Canada and Mexico agreed to, it could prolong the TPP negotiations beyond the anticipated October deadline, according to some sources. This could increase the likelihood that Canada will see a TPP negotiating round at some point, possibly in July.

"The TPP is turning the Pacific Ocean into an inland sea and a huge economic zone," said Abe this week, as he announced possible GDP growth of 0.66 per cent from a successful negotiation, but also a predicted $31-billion hit to Japan's farm, fishery and forestry sectors "This is the last chance. If we miss this opportunity, it would immediately mean that we would be left out of setting global regulations."

Earlier this week, an estimated 4,000 Japanese farmers staged a protest against the country's entry to the TPP, calling it "a drastic agreement that will change the way the nation deals with food," according to Common Dreams. Farmers are worried about cheaper imports undermining their livelihood, food standards and way of life.

The opposition influenced the ruling Liberal Party's resolution of support for the TPP this week, which paved the way for Abe's formal request to join the talks. That resolution "called for the maintenance of tariffs on key farm products, especially rice, wheat, beef, dairy products and sugar," reports Japan Times. "It also reflected worries that the TPP could hurt the domestic health insurance system, as the trade pact would allow for medical treatment overseas."

Even more worrying for some Japanese parliamentarians is what the country might have to accept as non-negotiable when Japan finally enters the TPP talks, as late as September -- a month before they hope to conclude a deal.

"We recognized the terms under which other countries, namely Mexico and Canada, have joined TPP negotiations were grossly unfair. Effectively, terms were dictated to these nations, which were told either they could comply or not join the talks," says a letter from parliamentarians opposed to the TPP to Prime Minister Abe, which is referenced by New Zealand trade activist Jane Kelsey in media release today.

"In particular, these entrants were required to agree that they would not seek to reopen any matters that had already been agreed to during the previous three years of negotiations. Further, they were forbidden from offering new proposals with respect to the numerous subjects that had already been decided."

The parliamentarians call this process "a fundamental surrender of sovereignty," and ask Abe to "state publicly the process that Japan will follow and the terms that have been agreed with the other TPP negotiating parties and to table a written assurance to this effect in the Diet."

Canadians still do not know what the Harper government agreed to as a condition of joining the TPP late last year, though the introduction of ACTA-ratification legislation this month is highly suspicious given the importance of the anti-counterfeiting measures to U.S. copyright owners and the U.S. government. Speaking of intellectual property rights, opponents of U.S. proposals in the TPP that will prolong patents and undermine access to medicines for developing countries were also loudly objecting to the negotiations this month.

"Despite paying lip service to the idea of balancing public health with trade interests, the U.S. government has yet to revise its demands for harmful provisions that will obstruct access to affordable generic medicines," said Judit Rius Sanjuan, U.S. manager for MSF's Access Campaign. "Countries negotiating the TPP must prevent harmful provisions from being shoe-horned into the final deal. The U.S. and its TPP partners must take their public health commitments seriously and agree to a trade agenda that promotes both innovation and access to medicines."

Canada is reportedly playing nice so far at the TPP table, though Reuters reports this week that the Harper government wants to use the talks to do away with "Buy American" policies on big infrastructure projects. Canada also objects to U.S. labour proposals which would allow a country to suspend any part of the deal for countries found violating core labour rights. The Harper government prefers to include simple fines against labour violations that are proven to relate directly to the trade agreement. Enforcing Canadian-style labour rights in trade deals also requires the good will and participation of the country where the violations are happening.

Canada's agricultural export sectors (grains, pulses, meat) will welcome Japan's entry to the talks, as they embraced the launch of Canada-Japan free trade negotiations last year. And like the Canada-EU free trade talks, lower tariffs on some agricultural or resource products are virtually the only tangible economic benefit Canada would receive from the TPP or any other Harper-era free trade deal. It might come at the expense of Canada's chicken, dairy and egg farmers, who don't export, and of our ability to carefully regulate corporate activity to protect the environment and health, but who cares, right?

Bridges Weekly reports that at least two other countries besides Japan -- Thailand and the Philippines -- are said to be interested in joining the TPP. Like Japan, "Thailand will still need to complete its own domestic procedures and gain the approval of TPP members to formally join the talks," writes the trade news publication, which quotes U.S. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon telling a Washington event, "We always envisioned the TPP as a growing platform for regional economic integration. Now, we are realising that vision -- growing the number of TPP partners from seven when President Obama took office."

TPP trade ministers will meet next on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Indonesia, April 20-21. A 17th TPP negotiating round will happen in Lima, Peru from May 15-24.

To read a new tri-national (North American) op-ed on the TPP, which explains why the TPP is mostly ideology, corporate power and geopolitics, click here. To volunteer your support for future tri-national action against the deal, including leading up to a possible negotiating round in Canada, see tppxborder.org. For more information about the TPP, including media statements and submissions to the Government of Canada from the Council of Canadians, click here.

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