TOKYO -- After the passage of the fiscal 2016 budget Tuesday, Japan's legislature is turning its attention to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and related bills, with the ruling coalition seeking quick passage and opposition parties ready to push back.
The two sides agreed Tuesday to begin deliberating when the lower house convenes April 5. After this, the TPP committee headed by Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Koya Nishikawa, a former agriculture minister, will start discussing the measures in earnest.
The ruling coalition hopes that passing the bills will let it appeal to agricultural groups, a major LDP voting bloc, during upper house elections in July by pointing to assistance programs for farmers. The selection of the popular Shinjiro Koizumi as head of the LDP's agriculture division is likely part of this strategy.
But the ruling parties face a tight schedule. Although this Diet session technically ends June 1, it will effectively wrap up when the Group of Seven summit hosted by Japan kicks off May 26. And the elections make a significant extension unlikely. The lower house would need to approve the measures by the extended break starting in April. Even some within the ruling coalition argue that ramming the bills through the Diet is not a good idea.
The opposition will put the TPP in its crosshairs in the latter half of the Diet session. The Democratic Party has named younger and midlevel lawmakers who are strong debaters to the TPP committee, planning to take the government to task for not doing enough to protect five key agricultural products. The party hopes to sway voters in single-representative districts, which have a high concentration of farmers.
The opposition also contends that the scandal that forced the resignation of former Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Akira Amari, who led the TPP negotiations, has not been sufficiently explained. It hopes to hold up talks on the TPP bills by tying the scandal into the debate over the trade deal. Victory in a Hokkaido by-election in April in which the TPP could become an issue would also give the opposition momentum.
With the TPP set to take center stage, the debate will inevitably affect other important bills. The government has submitted a postwar low of 55 bills. And the fiscal 2016 budget's passage about a week later than expected leaves less time to get things done.
A bill allowing salaries based on results rather than hours worked that was debated during the last Diet session looks increasingly unlikely to pass before the end of this session. Prospects are also dim for an accord on lower house election reform, making it more likely that the ruling coalition will act on its own.