TOKYO -- Japan's refreshed lineup of economy-related ministers on Thursday advocated speedy approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact by parliament to smooth the way for U.S. ratification.
Taking the lead
"I'd like to see the TPP ratified and related legislation passed as quickly as possible in the [extraordinary] Diet session that should be coming up," said Hiroshige Seko, the new minister of economy, trade and industry. The session is expected to convene next month and run until mid-December.
For the deal reached last October to take effect, it must be ratified by at least six countries making up a minimum of 85% of the 12 participants' gross domestic product. This necessarily includes the U.S. and Japan, which account for about 80% of the total. Major delays could ensue if the two economic heavyweights fail to ratify the agreement this year.
"We've affirmed at summits [involving TPP participants] that each country will work hard to ratify it," Seko said. "It's important for Japan to work on it in good faith." He expressed hope that Washington will strive to ratify the TPP before President Barack Obama leaves office.
By taking the initiative, Tokyo hopes to build momentum toward early ratification by other participants. "Japan showed leadership even during the process of [working out] the broad agreement," Seko noted.
Seko also discussed the so-called fourth industrial revolution, a shift in industry driven by such technologies as artificial intelligence and robots. He cited autonomous driving technology as a focal point for government policy. "We have to implement policies to keep the Japanese auto industry on top of the world in the future as well," Seko said.
The minister touched on a contentious proposed merger between oil companies Showa Shell Sekiyu and Idemitsu Kosan, which has created friction between the latter's management and founding family. "I hope they'll work toward mutual understanding and make progress on negotiating integration," Seko said.
Laying the groundwork
Returning Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Nobuteru Ishihara called for having the TPP approved in Japan before the U.S. presidential election in November to help ensure that Obama can get the deal through Congress in the lame-duck session afterward.
Ishihara also said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has told him to implement measures using the TPP to spur economic growth and revitalize outlying areas.
The minister stressed the need to reform workplace practices, an area for which a ministerial post was created in the new cabinet. "There's not much job mobility in Japan," Ishihara said. "With our population shrinking, it's important to shift talented people from their current workplaces to growth industries." Issues related to employment contracts -- such as allowing companies to resolve disputes with workers deemed to have been dismissed wrongfully by paying compensation, a measure sought by the business community -- will likely draw much attention.
"Equal pay for equal work and correcting excessive work hours are major pillars of our growth strategies," Ishihara said.
Ishihara also defended the Bank of Japan's independence amid talk of coordinating fiscal and monetary policy. "The BOJ has acted based on its own judgment to achieve the 2% price stability target," he said, indicating that he does not consider its bond-buying to be debt monetization, in which the BOJ covers the government's budget deficit automatically. Having the central bank work with the government would "create moral hazard," Ishihara argued.
Yuji Yamamoto, the new minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, plans to encourage active use of "internet of things" technology and AI in farming. Advanced technology will help support an industry facing a labor shortage as farmers age and struggle to find successors to take over, Yamamoto said.
"Farming can become a growth industry," he argued. Yamamoto advocated cooperation with the powerful Japan Agricultural Cooperatives group, calling for "constant contact" while "making an effort toward mutual understanding."