Civil society, interest groups, and FTA politics


How do civil societies in Japan and Korea impact FTA politics? Despite strong farm resistance to FTAs in both countries, the nature of civil society participation in Japan and Koreas FTA politics is markedly different.This book broadly defines civil society as all “organizations and associations that exist outside of the state (including political parties) and the market” (Carothers and Barndt 1999-2000, 19). In Japan, civil society’s participation in FTA politics largely evolves around interest groups. Organized farm groups and organized business interests are the most vocal and influential actors spearheading civil society participation in Japan’s FTA policymaking. These interest groups attempt to shape FTA policies from within the existing political institutions. In Korea, civil society participation in FTA politics takes the form of large-scale social mobilizations and protests that involve the broader public and various civil society actors. These differences do not necessarily point to weaker or stronger influence of civil society in either Japan or Korea. But the differences do highlight important distinctions in civil society’s participation in FTA politics in the two countries.

First, civil society-state relationship on trade policies is highly institutionalized in Japan, whereas such institutionalized relationship is absent in Korea. In Japan, interest groups that support and oppose FTAs have each formed close ties with politicians and ministries to push their desired trade agendas. These interest groups influence FTA policies by working within policy subgovernments such as the agricultural policy subgovernment and industrial policy subgovernment (see Chapter 3). Interest groups that fall outside of these policy subgovernments have few means to influence FTA policies. Until recently, Korea lacked such institutionalized relationship between state and civil society on trade policies. Instead, two broad coalitions have existed in society, each representing the anti- and pro-trade interests.

On the one side is the neoliberal coalition of export competing industries, rightwing NGOs, right-wing media, and right-wing politicians that support FTAs.1 On the other side is the anti-neoliberal coalition of import competing industries, leftwing NGOs, left-wing media, and left-wing politicians that oppose FTAs. Both coalitions attempt to influence trade policies from outside of the existing political institutions (e.g., social mobilization).

Second, the main civil society actors involved in FTA politics vary between the two countries. In Japan, conservative interest groups such as business federations and farm groups play dominant roles, while labor unions and the broader public play substantially weaker roles in FTA politics. In Korea, however, civil society participation in FTA politics involves a wide variety of actors from across the political and socioeconomic spectrum. In addition to organized business and farm groups, left-wing citizen movement groups and labor unions have actively mobilized public sentiments to shape the FTA agenda. Lastly, the anti-neoliberal coalition in Korea exhibits strong anti-American sentiments while in Japan, such sentiments are lacking. The following chapter closely analyzes the impact of such variations on Japan and Korea’s FTA politics in the two periods under study, from the late 1990s to 2012 and from 2013 to 2020.

Japan: institutionalized civil society–state relations on FTAs until 2012

In Japan, civil society-state relationship on FTA politics is highly institutionalized. A select number of interest groups have formed close ties with like-minded ministries and politicians to collectively achieve their desired trade agendas. This is largely the product of Japan’s fragmented domestic trade governance. As extensively discussed in Chapter 3, Japans institutions of trade policymaking was highly decentralized until the end of 2012, with decision-making authority divided along sectoral lines (i.e., industrial goods and agricultural goods). Separate policy subgovernments (e.g., agricultural policy subgovernment and industrial policy subgovernment) dominated trade policymaking for different sectors. And interest groups have been key actors in these policy subgovernments.The two most dominant interest groups in FTA politics are business and farm groups, each respectively led by Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) andJA-Zenchu (Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives) (Mulgan 2015,‘Introduction’). Keidanren is the peak association for Japanese businesses and JA-Zenchu is the peak association for the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives Group (JA Group). Keidanren has shaped industrial trade policies in close collaboration with МЕТІ and LDP politicians representing pro-FTA industry interests. Likewise, JA-Zenchu has dominated agricultural trade policies along with the MAFF and LDP rural politicians who represent anti-FTA interests (Mulgan 2008, 172; Solis 2010). Keidanren andJA-Zenchu are respectively key actors in the industrial and agricultural policy subgovernments, exercising strong voice over trade policies on industrial and agricultural goods.

The formation of these policy subgovernments in different trade policy realms have enabled a few number of interest groups to gain privileged access to trade policymaking relative to other civil society actors. In other words, the institutional structure of trade policymaking did not favor the broad inclusion of other civil society actors. Given their dominant positions in trade policymaking, Keidanren and JA-Zenchu have served as the de-facto leaders of the pro- and anti-FTA coalitions. The pro-FTA coalition represents export-competitive manufacturing industries such as automobile, electronics, and machineries, whereas the anti-FTA coalition consists of import-competing sectors such as primary food producers and processed food industries, and, in recent years, medical services.

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