Japan 2013–2020: strengthening political leadership in FTAs

When Prime Minister Abe took office again in 2013, he departed from his electoral campaign platform and announced that joining the TPP negotiations would be a key agenda of his new administration. In order to push through his TPP agenda, Prime Minister Abe had to simultaneously strengthen domestic trade governance and weaken resistance from protectionist actors. Prime Minister Abe first centralized the trade policymaking structure through the creation of the TPP task force. As examined in Chapter 3, the task force shifted trade policymaking authority away from separate policy subgovernments and centralized authority under the Prime Ministers leadership.This section pays closer attention Prime Minister Abe’s efforts to weaken resistance from the agricultural policy subgovernment, which was the main opponent to the government’s FTA agenda. The agricultural policy subgovernment consisted of MAFF, politicians (mainly LDP) representing farm interests, and farm groups. Prime Minister Abe coopted MAFF and key farm politicians. In addition, he undertook an unprecedented reform ofJA-Zenchu (Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives), which serves as the peak association for Japan’s powerful farm group, the JA Group (Japan Agricultural Cooperatives Group).

Coopting and weakening MAFF and the Norin Zoku

Japan’s vertically segmented bureaucracy has led to the formation of policy subgovernments that dominate the policy formation and implementation over separate policy areas. Although Prime Minister Abe managed to centralize the trade policymaking institution, policy subgovernments remained for the different policy areas. In other words, key actors of the agricultural policy subgovernment would continue to resist the government’s TPP agenda from within the TPP taskforce, although not as effective as before. MAFF officials and politicians representing farm interests are two key actors of Japan’s agricultural policy subgovernment. In particular, the latter, known as norin zoku (agricultural policy tribe), are Diet members who are “part of the LDP’s inner circle of specialist agricultural policymakers who are well connected to outside interests in the agricultural world” (Mulgan 2000, 477). MAFF ministers were often appointed from senior members of the norin zoku, reflecting the close-knit community of members of the agricultural policy subgovernment.

Prime Minister Abe sought to weaken opposition from MAFF and the norin zoku by strategically appointing pro-TPP Diet members who were also members of the norin zoku to key positions in the agricultural policymaking process. His first agriculture minister Yoshimasa Hayashi was a “well-known advocate of free trade” (Obe 2013). In 2014, Prime Minister Abe appointed the head of the LDP’s TPP Affairs Committee, Koya Nishikawa, as the new MAFF minister. Although he was an influential member of the norin zoku, Nishikawa had actively supported the TPP in his previous position as head of the LDP’s TPP Affairs Committee. Nishikawa had worked to facilitate Japan’s FTA negotiations with Australia (Nikkei Asia Review 2014a), was well acquainted with the ministers involved in the FTA policymaking process (Nikkei Asia Review 2014b), and attended TPP negotiation sites as a “political conduit for Abe” (Terada 2019, 1051). Terada (2019) notes that Nishikawa’s appointment as MAFF minister was a political reward for his loyalty (ibid.). Shortly after being appointed as minister of MAFF, Nishikawa commented in an interview that “the Japanese economy will prosper if there’s a TPP agreement” (Nikkei Asia Review 2014c). Japanese politics experts view this appointment as a strategic move by Prime Minister Abe to control the norin zoku through Nishikawa (Terada 2019,1051). In other words, Nishikawa had the task of bringing both MAFF and the norin zoku—two key actors in the agricultural policy subgovernment—to the TPP bargaining table with the goal of moving the TPP negotiations forward. Nishikawa was expected to use his influence within the norin zoku to mitigate opposition to the TPP.

After Nishikawa’s resignation due to a political scandal in 2015, Prime Minister Abe appointed Hiroshi Moriyama as minister of MAFF. Similar to Nishikawa, Moriyama was an influential member of the norin zoku who had succeeded Nishikawa as head of the LDP TPP Affairs Committee in 2014. Moriyama was a vocal supporter of the TPP and believed it would open up growth opportunities for Japanese farmers (The Japan Times 2015). Basically, Prime Minister Abe strategically used “key norin zoku to restrain other zoku” (Yoshimatsu 2016,1160). And Prime Minister Abe’s strategy led to the weakening of norin zoku opposition to the TPP and more broadly to agricultural structural reforms. As discussed later in this chapter, when Prime Minister Abe targeted the JA Group for reform, the norin zoku did not actively intervene to prevent the reform. Moreover, members of MAFF and some senior members of norin zoku actually supported the Prime Minister’s agricultural structural reform agenda (Honma and Mulgan 2018, 138). After the conclusion oftheTPP negotiations at the end of 2015,Japans new MAFF minister Yuji Yamamoto, who was a known reformer, assumed the role of implementing agricultural structural reforms.

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