Saturday, April 25, 2015

5No Bilateral TPP Deal until Final Collective Deal

There, I’ve said it.

There has been a lot of public doodling by the media and analysts around the progress, impasses and, in the fevered imagination of Yomiuri Shimbun, “effective agreement” at various stages in the TPP negotiations between the United States and Japan. Now, I’m seeing reports that there will be no deal during Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Washington.

And that’s news?

Give me a break. It’s not even about TPA. Look, no bilateral deal will be made public until all the bilateral deals have been cut. To illustrate, let’s say that Japan and the United States make a deal on beef that is more favorable to the United States than the one that Australia got in their bilateral FTA with Japan. That would displease the Australian government, who would want a similar deal from Japan. But not only is that likely to induce the Japanese government to demand a quid pro quo but would also displease U.S. and Japanese beef producers, who would make new, mutually conflicting demands of their own. So any bilateral deal on tariffs will have to be kept under wraps until all the chickens come home to roost, as it were.

So what was all the “negotiating” about? My guess is that it was a mixture of sounding out the other side to figure where and what the real issues and the other side’s priorities were, ironing out technical issues, establishing and reinforcing relationships with the other side so that the endgame could proceed expeditiously, and otherwise doing their best to minimize glitches along the way. The rest, I would argue, was camouflage.

I could, of course, be wrong. But I think that I’ve done a better reading of the process so far than most. And I’m not worried that I’ll be proven wrong this time either.

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