On November 24, the DPJ held an informal meeting of DPJ Diet Members at a venue near the Diet. DPJ President, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda reported on the economic partnership issue and discussions were held for nearly an hour. A translated summary of Noda’s report is as follows:
Thank you very much for convening this meeting of DPJ Diet members here today. The theme of this meeting is economic partnerships and so I would like to explain the background regarding this issue, including the question of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Following WWII, our nation developed thanks to the benefits of free trade reaped under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) framework. We are now in the era of the WTO, but since the Doha round unfortunately did not see many developments in the discussions toward forming new trade rules, and with there being an impetus to integrate in the spirit of the WTO, there is an increasing movement toward negotiations for bilateral and multilateral EPAs and FTAs.
In the midst of this, Japan is unfortunately one lap behind. Considering this, last year, the Cabinet decided, in its “New Growth Strategy” to proceed with high-level economic partnerships in a strategic and multi-faceted manner. We must also accelerate negotiations with areas outside of the Asian-Pacific region, such as those with EU, but the Asian-Pacific region above all is vital, and playing a leading role in the creation of rules relating to trade and investment in the region is extremely important for Japan’s future. The view that we must work strategically to incorporate the growth of the Asian-Pacific region domestically is one I believe we all share. In particular, Japan must play a leading role in forming a Free Trade Area of the Asian-Pacific (FTAAP). This matter was already recognized at last year’s Yokohama APEC summit, where the leaders confirmed that paths to the FTAAP lie via the TPP, ASEAN +3, and ASEAN +6. Of these, the only one where negotiations are actually in progress is the TPP.
Under normal circumstances we should have reached a conclusion on this matter by this June, but following the Great East Japan Earthquake discussions came to a halt. With the APEC summit in Honolulu fast approaching the question of what to do became pressing, and under the leadership of Chair Yoshio Hachiro the DPJ’s Economic Partnership Project Team held more than 20 intra-party meetings lasting for some 50 hours in order to discuss this issue. I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to you all for engaging in the debate from your various perspectives with the future of Japan in mind.
On November 9, the Project Team issued its proposal. The outline of the proposal was that “There were opinions stating that ‘It is too early to announce our intention to participate in negotiations at Honolulu, and so such an announcement should not be made’ and those stating that “It should be announced’, but considering the fact that those holding the former opinion were in the majority, the decision on this issue should be made with caution.” This outline was reported by Policy Research Committee Chair Seiji Maehara to the meeting between senior administration officials and senior officials in the DPJ (Secretary General, Acting Secretary General, Policy Research Committee Chair, Diet Affairs Committee Chair), and discussed. Discussions were also held with the Cabinet Ministers concerned, but ultimately a decision could not be reached by the time of the intensive debate on the issue in the Committees on Budget in both Houses of the Diet, held on November 11. The meeting of senior government and DPJ officials continued to discuss the issue, and after thorough deliberations, the conclusion reached was that “Japan will enter into consultations toward participating in the TPP negotiations with the countries concerned.” On November 11, I held a press conference, and following that I left for Honolulu.
At my meeting with President Obama, what I said was what I had said in my press conference; that the conclusion reached by the government and ruling party was that “Japan will enter into consultations toward participating in the TPP negotiations with the countries concerned” and that Japan was pursuing a basic policy of comprehensive economic partnerships and high-level economic partnerships as decided by the Cabinet in November of last year. That is what I said: nothing more, nothing less. In the subsequent APEC summit meeting Canada and Mexico also expressed the strong desire to enter talks with the countries concerned.
Following Honolulu, there were also various summit meetings with East Asian nations in Bali. There, in the bilateral meeting with Australian Prime Minister Gillard, it was agreed that we would restart negotiations on the FTA between Japan and Australia before the end of the year. With regard to an FTA between Japan and the Republic of Korea, I had already mentioned this to President Lee Myung-bak on my visit to Seoul, but in Bali we agreed to complete the joint study being carried out by representatives from the private, public and educational sectors on the Japan-China- ROK FTA by the end of the year, and to work toward a full-fledged FTA during the following year. What emerged from successive meetings in Bali with regard to the other paths to the FTAAP, was that Japan and China proposed that a working group be established by ASEAN +3 and ASEAN +6 [toward forming a framework for economic partnership], and ASEAN itself also agreed to form a working group. We now have a situation where the formation of a variety of kinds of high-level economic partnership is accelerating in the Asian-Pacific region.
When proceeding in consultations toward participating in TPP negotiations with the countries concerned, I would like us to enter a process in which we obtain clear information regarding what the countries concerned expect of Japan, inform everyone here of this, and engage in thorough debate both within the party and within the nation as a whole, before finally reaching a conclusion about the TPP purely from the point of view of our national interest. We need to make more efforts toward information gathering from now on. I would like once again to convey my resolve to engage with other nations and endeavour to obtain information that will be a basis for sufficient debate to take place. As I previously stated in my press conference, I will ensure the protection of Japan’s world-renowned medical system, our beautiful rural communities, and our traditional culture. I will protect those things that need to be protected, and achieve victory where it needs to be achieved. I would like to end my speech by expressing my intention to enter consultations with this mentality.