Japan must play leading role in uniting TPP countries: The Yomiuri Shimbun

New Zealand PM Bill English is greeted by Japanese PM Shinzo Abe prior to a meeting, on May 17, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on May 22, the paper proposes that Japan persistently advocate the advantages of the pact in order to bridge the differences of opinion between the 11 TPP countries


TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - It is safe to say that the latest development in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has just about managed to keep the free trade pact alive after the deadlock caused by the United States' withdrawal from the accord.

A meeting was held between ministers from the 11 TPP nations - which do not include the US. With a joint statement adopted to "reaffirm ... the strategic and economic significance of the TPP," the 11 nations agreed to unite their efforts.

The success achieved by the 11 TPP nations in sharing an eagerness to proceed with the treaty at the ministerial meeting - the first of its kind to be held since the US departure from the pact - is a positive outcome.

The agreement has reached a stalemate and may become impossible to bring into force due to the US withdrawal. The statement said efforts will be made to work out "options to bring (the agreement) into force expeditiously" by the next meeting in November.

The setting of a time limit seems to be aimed at preventing delays in discussions. The proceeding discussions that will take place up through the autumn will be extremely meaningful.

Japan's proposal to hold a meeting of senior officials in July was welcomed, too. Due to the significant scale of Japan's economy, assuming a leadership role in the process is imperative.

The rising tide of protectionism centring on the US must be opposed and global free trade defended. It is also vital to establish high-level trade and investment rules, in an effort to facilitate improvement in the quality of such activities under other economic partnership treaties. Steady promotion of a TPP deal by the 11 nations is extremely important for Japan's trade strategy.

There is no telling what will ensue from the talks that follow. The expectations of each TPP nation regarding the framework for discussions without the US are complicated.

Australia and New Zealand, both of which set their sights on an increase in exports to Japan, are positive about the planned talks. Vietnam and Malaysia remain cautious, as they attach importance to the US market.

If and when the talks aimed at putting the TPP deal into force by the 11 nations get into full swing, nations such as Vietnam could call for major changes in the details of the treaty. In that case, there is great concern that the treaty could go adrift.

One proposal is being floated as a realistic response to the situation: Five nations, including Japan and Australia, would follow the already agreed-upon details and bring these items into effect first.

However, if the framework is scaled down, it will reduce the significance of the TPP agreement.

How can the difference of opinion among TPP members be overcome while avoiding major changes in the substance of the accord? That concern must be answered.

In response to the latest statement, Japan must persistently advocate the strategic advantages of the agreement to each TPP nation.

At the same time, efforts to draw the US back to the accord are indispensable.

The statement also said measures would be taken regarding "how to facilitate membership for the original signatories." With the US in mind, this presents a possible solution to simplify TPP participation procedures, compared with those to be completed by nations that newly want to join the pact.

Despite the low possibility of the US immediately reversing its withdrawal, leaving the door open for it to rejoin will aid unity among the 11 TPP countries.

The Yomiuri Shimbun is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 news media entities.