Viewpoint: The Great East Japan Earthquake and the Trans-Pacific Partnership

by Shigeru Yamashiro, Chief Editorial Writer

Up until early March, newspapers carried headlines such as “Questions Raised on Japan Opening Markets to the World” and “Aggressive Agriculture.”

But in the wake of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, debate by the government over whether to join the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (also known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP) has been shelved.

Arguments for and against signing the TPP have been in sharp conflict. Prime Minister Naoto Kan has expressed his view that the decision over this issue, which was originally set for June, will be postponed. With the whole nation needing to unite to overcome a national crisis, the government cannot afford to put priority on other matters.

The areas impacted by the earthquake and the tsunami are among the nation's major agricultural zones. Restoring farmlands covered by seawater after the tsunami or contaminated by radiation from the nuclear power plant accident are daunting tasks. We should not add the misfortune of joining the TPP, which would likely deliver another damaging blow to Japanese agriculture.

The export of local agricultural products, which we hoped would help boost Japan’s agriculture, is now being buffeted by a headwind of harmful rumor.

At the same time, we cannot help but think about a very different issue.

The total removal of tariffs, without exception, is the goal of the TPP. What this boils down to is the application of market principles across national borders, in which competition takes precedence over everything else.

However, after the catastrophe of March 11, a certain change seems to have occurred in the collective mindset.

Fierce forces of nature have claimed scores of lives and have deprived a large number of people of the foundation for their livelihoods.

People have been offering whatever support they can: sending donations of money and supplies, and providing manpower. The generous support given from inside and outside the country is hugely impressive.

The crisis involving the nuclear power plant shows no sign of being brought under control, putting the earth's fragile environment at risk. Securing safe and sustainable sources of energy is an urgent challenge for all of humanity.

There is nothing wrong with competition, but isn't it time we lent hands of support to one another rather than butt heads in competition? This crisis may in fact mark the beginning of a new era of cooperation.

(Originally published on April 6, 2011)