New Tokyo Governor Likely to Give Sales Pitch for TPP

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By Toshio Aritake

Aug. 1 — Tokyo residents elected a former environment and defense minister—and a strong proponent of a 12-nation Pacific Rim trade pact—as their next governor by a landslide margin.

Yuriko Koike won the July 31 election with roughly 2.9 million votes. She is expected at least indirectly to support Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push to have the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) approved during an extraordinary session of the Diet (parliament) to be convened in late September, political consultant Uichiro Kinoshita told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 1.

Abe wants Japan to be the first of the 12 nations that signed the TPP in February to ratify the agreement. He also wants to counter China's influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

In addition, Koike will probably collaborate with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Assembly's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) members to sell the TPP as a policy to keep grocery prices low while urging Japanese farmers to become more competitive, he said.

Staunch Proponent

Koike has been a staunch proponent of the TPP since the inception of the regional trade agreement in 2006 as a regime that “promises everything from more trade to a cleaner environment [and it will] prove to be a key foundation tone of the Asian Century.”

She said the TPP is vital for Japan in liberalizing its economy, doing away with government red tape and brushing aside industry lobbies and vested interest groups that seek to delay modernizing laws and regulations. She also told farm lobbies that are opposed to the TPP that there's sufficient lead time for them to prepare for tariff reductions; for example, the current beef tariff of 38.5 percent will be lowered to 9 percent, 16 years after the TPP takes effect, not immediately.

At the same time, she conceded the difficulty of selling the TPP to the country's voters as a major political challenge.

Counter Chinese Influence

Abe wants to lead other Asian countries in ratifying the TPP as a strategy to counter China's expansion in the region with its military forces and bilateral trade agreements, as well as the Regional Cooperative Economic Partnership framework. RCEP is made up of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (such as Thailand and the Philippines) plus six other countries, which includes China.

On July 30, Yoshihide Suga, chief cabinet secretary of the Abe Cabinet, said in remarks to the think tank Japan Akademeia that the Abe administration plans to accelerate consideration of TPP legislation in the next Diet session to be convened in late September, so that Japan would become the first country to ratify the agreement. Suga, the Abe Cabinet's second in command, said the Cabinet wants a smooth and early enactment of the TPP pact.

As for the July 31 elections, Abe didn't endorse fellow LDP member Koike, because she declared her candidacy without consulting with and seeking party consent.

Koike, Kinoshita said, may seek to be nominated as the next prime minister after Abe, who is expected to continue serving as Japanese leader until the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020, the year when the Tokyo gubernatorial term is due for reelection.

To contact the reporter on this story: Toshio Aritake in Tokyo at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at jashton@bna.com

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