Emperor Akihito’s dissolution of the Japanese parliament on Friday, on the advice of Prime Minister Yoshiko Noda, will lead to an election, in which Mr. Noda’s decision a week ago to seek to enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations will be a central issue. This is an opportunity to re-energize Japan’s economy. It would also benefit all the countries taking part in the TPP, including Canada, which can now hope for greater access to one of the world’s three largest economies.
Ever since the bursting of a real-estate and stockmarket bubble in 1991, Japan has had remarkably slow economic growth – some call it “stagnation.” The population actually began to decline in 2005. The combined earthquake and tsunami in March, 2011, and the resulting meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear reactor, prompted much reflection and debate about whether Japan should set out on a new course – in which the TPP could be an important factor.
Already in January, 2011, the former prime minister Naoto Kan (like Mr. Noda, from the Democratic Party) gave a New Year’s address, in which he said Japan needed a “third opening,” the first opening being the Meiji restoration – the adaptation to a Western-style industrial economy starting in the 1860s – and the second opening being Japan’s democratization and demilitarization after its devastating defeat in 1945.
The third opening, said Mr. Kan, would include entry into the TPP talks and other trade negotiations. Although Japan is very much part of the global economy, it remains staunchly protectionist in some sectors, especially agriculture and services. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many young people, who want to move on from a society that feels stifling set in its ways, place hope in the TPP negotiations.
The successful completion of the ambitious TPP negotiations will be very difficult. Agriculture will be particularly fraught for Japan – as it will be for Canada and the United States. But the phasing-in of such changes greatly eases such transitions. The TPP, if agreed to, promises to have dynamic effects for all the countries concerned.