As the Japanese parliament begins sitting again on Monday after a near four-month break, lawmakers in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling party will turn their attention to passing legislation for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
Abe, who has championed the deal as part of his efforts to revitalize the Japanese economy, is seeking to maintain forward momentum for the TPP amid growing resistance abroad. On the campaign trail, U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have said they oppose the 12-member pact. In Asia, Vietnam may postpone plans to ratify the accord.
While the recently elected Japanese opposition leader Renho said Japan should not move ahead with the TPP while Clinton and Trump stand in opposition, Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito coalition partner have the numbers to push it through. Speaking about the TPP in New York on Sept. 19, Abe said: “Japan will spare no effort, and we count on the U.S. to do the same.”
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Abe’s government had hoped to ratify the agreement earlier this year but its plans were put on hold with the resignation of then-Economy Minister Akira Amari. With the U.S. and Japan together representing about 80 percent of the economic weight of the TPP member countries, ratification by both is essential.
Junichi Sugawara, chief researcher at Mizuho Research Institute in Tokyo, said the TPP is both a trump card for Abe’s economic efforts and an important way of maintaining American engagement in the Asia-Pacific region.
While the administration of Barack Obama remains committed to the TPP, it appears unlikely to get a vote in the Republican-controlled Congress as the clock winds down on his presidential term. Obama hosted a bipartisan group of economic leaders at the White House on Sept. 16 as a part of his push.
“They know that this is important for our economy and this is important for our national security,” he said at the meeting. “If we are not in there making sure that fair trade is established in the Asian market, we’re going to be cut out.”
Japan passing its own TPP legislation would “reinforce the administration’s messages with Congress in a helpful way,” said Matthew Goodman, senior adviser for Asian economics at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.