Shinzo Abe warns of rising protectionism should TPP falter

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe buttons his jacket after a meeting at the presidential palace ahead of the 2016 Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Lima, Peru on Nov 18, 2016.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe buttons his jacket after a meeting at the presidential palace ahead of the 2016 Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Lima, Peru on Nov 18, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Lima, Peru - Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned on Saturday (Nov 19) of the spread of protectionism if the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) member countries allow rising anti-globalisation sentiments to kill the deal.

"If we now are discouraged and hold our efforts to get domestic approval, then the TPP will die forever and we may not be able to contain protectionism," he said at a TPP leaders' meeting held on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit.

There is misunderstanding that the TPP benefits only large companies, but the beneficiaries are really small and medium-sized enterprises and consumers, he added.

"I have been explaining this to our people in Japan and will continue to do so," said Mr Abe, who has invested much political capital into realising the TPP.

The trade pact can come into force only if it is approved by six countries that account for at least 85 per cent of the group's economic output.

This means that ratification by both the US and Japan, as the world's top and third economy respectively, is essential.

Japan's Lower House has approved the TPP and it is now before the Upper House. "Although we received harsh criticism from the media and the opposition parties, we cannot stop our efforts for the domestic support or we will see the death of TPP and rampancy of protectionism," he said.

But ratification in the US has been dealt a huge setback following Mr Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential election on an anti-trade platform.

At a press conference later that day, Mr Yasuhisa Kawamura, a spokesman for Mr Abe, said it was too early to predict what the new policies of the incoming Trump administration will be like.

When asked why the TPP leaders' meeting did not yield a statement, he said there was no time to prepare one as the meeting was taking place less than two weeks after the US presidential elections.

Also, there is no clear-cut formula that international trade talks must produce statements after each meeting, Mr Kawamura said.

As for whether Japan will shift its focus to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) if the TPP falters, he said the TPP remains the "role model" of a "high quality, 21st century type of agreement".

"So first of all, we have to fulfil our commitment for the passage and approval of the TPP. Then it will have a positive influence over the RCEP negotiations. That is the right order we have to follow," he said.