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Keywords:

  • D72;
  • F13;
  • P48

Naoi and Urata's (2013) paper is both informative about Japan's free trade agreement (FTA) policy and innovative in its analysis of public opinion concerning the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). Naoi and Urata summarize concisely the major characteristics of the FTAs that Japan has concluded, and persuasively point out the centrality of the protection of agricultural products in the policy formulation of trade policy in general and FTA policy in particular. In this sense, it is easy to understand that the TPP has become very controversial in Japan's domestic politics as it could affect Japan's long-standing policy of agricultural protection. However, what seems interesting, as Naoi and Urata point out, is that the TPP attracts a broader opposition than would be expected from the strength of the agricultural sector: “Opposition to the TPP encompasses a substantial bulk of nonfarmers.”

The most interesting finding from the analysis of the opinion survey data is that social and political attributes, rather than economic attributes, affect the public's attitude to the TPP. Sectoral differences in respondents' employment have little impact on their attitudes to the TPP; whether one is in the manufacturing sector or in the agricultural sector does not systematically affect one's attitude toward the TPP. Instead, social and political factors are more important. Women are more likely to oppose the TPP. The supporters of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) are more likely to support the TPP than nonpartisan respondents. Further, the sources of information that respondents trust affect their attitude to the TPP; those who trust the Internet as a source of information on the TPP are more likely to oppose the TPP than those who trust newspapers. Naoi and Urata also analyze the chronological change of opposition to the TPP by innovatively utilizing Google Trend data. The concerns on the TPP spread from a limited number of prefectures in 2010 to nearly nationwide in 2011: the rural and Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)-dominant prefectures experienced the largest increase in the search volume relating to the TPP.

I have little to add to the above analysis of the survey data. However, I am not fully convinced by the Naoi and Urata's conclusion on the relative abundance of resources that the protectionist interests have. This argument does not square well with the fact that after Prime Minister Abe of the LDP made a decision to participate in the TPP negotiation, he was not bashed much by the protectionist interests and has maintained a high approval rate. The level of financial resources that the anti-TPP forces can mobilize does not change much between 2012 and 2013. With the victory of the LDP in the Lower House election, they could become even more active. But with Abe's announcement, they virtually stopped their campaigns of all-out opposition. In order to understand the difference between the surge of anti-TPP campaigns in 2011–2012 and the seeming acquiescence to Abe's decision to participate in the TPP in 2013, one needs to analyze the political process that took place under the DPJ governments.

As is well known, there are supporters and opponents of the TPP in both the LDP and DPJ. The difference between the DPJ governments and Abe's LDP government was the complete failure of the former to forge a unified position on the TPP. Mr. Abe's government's future TPP negotiations may be troubled by its opponents inside the party, but at least the LDP was able to formulate a unified party endorsement of Abe's decision. Many TPP supporters inside the LDP, many of whom were in leading positions in the party, had been silent during the reign of the DPJ governments. Their political priority was to weaken the DPJ government and win the Lower House election. Their silence strengthened the persuasive power of the anti-TPP campaigns. In a way, they allowed the protectionist, anti-TPP forces to harass the DPJ while the LDP was out of power. But, once in power, the mainstream LDP politicians have to manage the entire economy, maintain good relations with the zaikai (business community), and improve relations with the USA. Mr. Noda and other DPJ supporters of the TPP had similar considerations. What they lacked was a competence in interest integration within their own party. The LDP government under Mr. Abe appears more adroit in doing that at least for now.

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