Critics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership say it's an attempt to impose an American system on Japan and would threaten Japanese public healthcare system.
MICHAEL PENN, TOKYO: The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, may not yet be a household topic of discussion in the United States and many other countries, but it has been one of the most prominent political issues in Japan for several years. The debate over whether or not Japan should enter the TPP negotiation process has divided major political parties and led to large-scale protests, especially from Japan's agricultural sector. Indeed, in the Japanese media and elsewhere, supporters of TPP have painted the issue as mainly a conflict between the interests of the urban, modern sectors of the Japanese economy and the backward, inefficient farmers, who they say are only interested in maintaining high tariff protection against foreign foodstuffs, especially rice.
PROTESTERS (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Participation in TPP negotiations is a violation of the government's campaign promise!
PENN: But this is only a caricature, as in fact there are plenty of voices in urban areas who fear the economic effects of trade liberalization:
PROTESTER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Foreign laborers could come into the country; not only the workers, but the companies too. The fact that they are foreigners is no problem. We are worried about the effect on wages. For skilled Japanese craftsmen, we worry this will be used to bid down the money we make.
PENN: Others point to deeper implications arising from TPP, which they see as far more than another free trade agreement. Nobuhiko Suto, until recently a House of Representatives lawmaker, is a leading Japanese critic of TPP.
NOBUHIKO SUTO, FORMER REPRESENTATIVE, DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF JAPAN (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): What we really fear has nothing to do with trade and economy but with ethnic diversity. Local and regional variations may be deeply affected by this systemic change. When I first learned of this fact, I wanted to know more, but the negotiations are secret. My studies led me to understand that TPP is not trade liberalization but systemic liberalization. Put simply, they want to take the U.S. system and make it operate across the Pacific region.
PENN: Outside of the agricultural sector, some of the deepest fears that Japanese have about TPP regards what it will mean for the nation's excellent system of national health care.
SUTO: It would destroy our health insurance system. This is not because America intends this result. When the U.S. insurance companies enter our market, they will focus on profitable sectors. But Japanese health insurance depends on pooling together profitable and other sectors. The U.S. companies would go after cancer and other specialized medicine to make their profits, and this would leave out poor people who can't pay and would destroy our insurance system.
PENN (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Do you want American health insurance?
PENN: Why not?
PROTESTER: They are money-crazed! We have the best system now. Japanese have universal insurance and the U.S. does not. that's why it is no good. The U.S. system isn't fair and favors the rich. We don't need it here in Japan!
PENN (ENGLISH): Another area of deep concern among those Japanese who have studied the TPP issue at some length is the international harmonization of patent laws and intellectual property rights. There is a fear that the United States wants Japan to adopt a new system of rules that will unfairly pour money into the pockets of American corporations.
SUTO: The U.S. way of thinking is that those who develop original technologies should profit. To take an extreme example, consider the case of someone developing some new software. Well, originally you need screens to see what the software does, meaning it is based on TV. That means any new software technology is originally based on television technology. Going further back, all television technology is based on the mastery of electricity. That means that they want Japanese software developers to pay money to Thomas Edison. I'm being facetious, but this is the kind of idea the U.S. wants us to base patent laws upon.
PENN: Suto asserts that the Japanese government's strong attachment to TPP has less to do with a rational assessment of its own national interests and is more connected to the fact that conservative political leaders like Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have been duped by Washington's so-called "Japan Handlers" into seeing TPP as a strengthening of the U.S.-Japan military alliance.
SUTO: Even if TPP has no economic merits for the Japanese economy, Prime Minister Abe would still want to join on alleged national security grounds. There are a lot of people in Japan who accept this reasoning all too easily. But I believe this is quite a dangerous way to approach this issue.
PENN: In the end, however, Suto believes that the TPP process will fail, first of all because it will prove impossible to match so many different kinds of economic systems in the Pacific region, but also because the United States itself will reject TPP when its full implications become clear to local leaders and to the general public.
SUTO: What really surprises me about TPP, and I might add ISD as well, is that if TPP advances and is implemented it will destroy the American social system. Take as an example the United States' federal system of government. Since its founding, the states had their power and formed "The United States of America." But under the TPP regime the power of individual states would evaporate. Right now you have cases in which one state has the death penalty but the next doesn't, or maybe this state here allows people to buy alcohol and the other doesn't. TPP would take these kinds of powers out of the hands of state governments. You could have foreign liquor companies suing states that try to restrict sales of alcohol. Up until now, such a thing couldn't happen, and quite naturally so. TPP would break down the United States' own independent system.
So when it comes to TPP, I think you'll see their own citizens' groups rise up against it. And when the Americans themselves begin to figure out the strange things entailed by TPP, their own opposition will grow. And so, finally, I believe that it will not be enacted.
PENN: Some well-informed observers in Japan believe that TPP is so ambitious and its consequences would be so profound that it is likely to ultimately collapse under its own weight, even with the powerful political support it currently enjoys.
Michael Penn for The Real News, in Tokyo.