Over in Japan, there’s been a big political scandal brewing over the last few days, leading the country’s economy minister Akira Amari to resign amid charges that he received significant bribes from a construction company. What makes that relevant to us here is that Amari was also Japan’s leading negotiator on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, and his resignation and the bribery charges are raising additional (and fairly serious) questions about whether or not Japan really should support the TPP. So far, the bribery that’s been discussed does not appear to directly impact that TPP, but it at least raises other questions about whether or not the TPP itself was compromised by similar corruption (of course, some may argue that the entire process, in which big companies basically helped write the thing, is itself corrupt). Amari had been expected to travel to New Zealand in the next few days for the TPP signing ceremony, but obviously someone else will now have to go.
Japan’s role in the TPP has always been somewhat controversial. It was late to join the effort, and there has been a lot of fear within the country, which has kept up some protectionist trade policies for quite some time, some of which the TPP would force them to remove. As I’ve said, I actually think the TPP’s efforts to remove actual tariff barriers should be applauded, but it’s the majority of the rest of the agreement that’s so troubling — including things that seem actually the opposite of free trade, like increasing protectionist intellectual property laws. Indeed, Japan was often one of the most aggressive in pushing for stricter copyright and patent rules within the TPP. And now we have to wonder if that was actually done because Japan believed it was in its best interests, or if other, perhaps more corrupt factors played a part.
The signing ceremony is just the beginning of the process, of course. The ratification by various countries is the big fight. Amari’s resignation and the related scandal now increase the chances that Japan may not be ready to approve the TPP, and that could put the entire agreement at risk.