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The Asahi Shimbun/2019/11/19 16:10

Diet debate on U.S. trade deal fails to clarify benefits, risks

The Lower House plenary session is set to pass a bill on Nov. 19 to approve a new trade agreement the government has negotiated with the United States.
During the chamber’s debate on the bill, the government repeatedly touted the trade pact, asserting that it is a “win-win and well-balanced agreement for both Japan and the United States.”
It refused almost all opposition requests for the submission of related documents to the Diet. When opposition parties walked out of a session in protest, the ruling camp let the clock keep ticking and the time allocated for opposition questions run out.
The ruling camp’s insincere actions have left many important questions about the trade accord unanswered.
During the upcoming Upper House deliberations, the government needs to offer a convincing explanation about why the agreement can qualify as a “win-win” deal.
There are two key questions that need to be answered. One is whether the Trump administration has promised to eliminate U.S. tariffs on Japanese automobiles and car parts in the future, as the Japanese government says.
The other concerns the government’s claim that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has secured U.S. President Donald Trump’s pledge not to impose additional tariffs or numerical restrictions on Japanese auto exports to the United States. Is this “promise between the two leaders” that Tokyo has cited really something that commits Washington to refraining from these actions?
Opposition parties have pointed out a contradiction between the government’s assertion that the future elimination of the auto tariffs is a “done deal” and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s remarks that tariffs on automobiles and car parts were not included in the agreement.
The government’s estimate of the economic benefits of the trade agreement includes the effects of the removal of U.S. import duties on Japanese auto-related exports to the United States. The government had rejected the opposition demand for an estimate that excludes these effects.
But the extent to which the agreement will actually remove restrictions on bilateral trade depends greatly on whether the auto-related tariffs will be eliminated, as an analysis by The Asahi Shimbun and an expert shows.
Why does the government refuse to offer such an estimate? It is hardly surprising that the opposition camp has criticized the government’s attitude as “a blatant show of disrespect for the Diet and disregard for the public.”
Abe has stressed that he has received clear confirmation from Trump that his administration will not impose additional tariffs on Japanese cars and related products, adding that a promise between the two leaders “carries a lot of weight.”
But no specifics about the actual exchanges between the two leaders have been disclosed. Trump is known for a tendency to readily change his mind. There must not be many Japanese who are willing to accept Abe’s explanation at face value.
We cannot help but feel uneasy that the entire picture of the trade agreement is not yet clear.
After the agreement is put into effect, the two countries are to decide, within four months, on areas where they will continue the trade talks. But what areas exactly will be covered in the next round of talks?
Will the elimination of U.S. tariffs on Japanese auto-related exports really be negotiated?
If not, the bilateral pact could be seen as inconsistent with the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules that require any bilateral trade agreement to remove import duties on “substantially all” the trade between the two countries, with “substantially all” usually interpreted as 90 percent or more.
With the U.S. presidential election looming one year down the road, the Trump administration is calling on Japan to put the accord into force on Jan. 1. That would require the agreement to be approved by the Diet during the current extraordinary session.
That, however, offers no justification for hasty deliberations on the bill. We strongly urge the government to deal with the bill in a sincere manner.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 19




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