DURING HIS ON-GOING TRIP to Washington, D.C. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met yesterday with President Barack Obama at the White House and discussed many issues from cyber threats to trade. However, trade seemed to be the focal point for both leaders with Prime Minister Abe saying, “We welcome the fact that significant progress was made. We will continue to cooperate to lead the TPP talks to its last phase,” reports the Wall Street Journal. President Obama added that, “The politics around trade can be hard in both our countries…It’s never fun passing a trade bill in this town.”
The TPP or Trans-Pacific Partnership is a trade deal that is currently being negotiated between 12 nations. President Obama announced the United States intention to participate in the agreement in 2009. According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, “The TPP is the cornerstone of the Obama Administration’s economic policy in the Asia Pacific. The large and growing markets of the Asia-Pacific already are key destinations for U.S. manufactured goods, agricultural products, and services suppliers, and the TPP will further deepen this trade and investment.”
Today (Wednesday, April 29, 2015) Prime Minister addressed a joint session of Congress, a first for any leader of Japan. In his address Prime Minister Abe stated, “The trade agreement would help ensure the security of an area that accounts for 40% of the world economy, and one third of global trade.” The Prime Minister Abe sought to use his address, at least in part, to persuade members of Congress to support the trade deal.
However, convincing U.S. law makers will be no easy task. Trade has become a divisive issue, particularly among democrats with the more left wing members of the party such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) opposing such legislation. Issues over the trade deal have also started to seep into the 2016 presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton so far has come out as noncommittal on either side of the deal, stating, “Any trade deal has to produce jobs and raise wages and increase prosperity and protect our security.” However that may change as Sen. Sanders is expected to enter the race against Hillary Clinton this week.
In an effort to help convince lawmakers of the merits of TPP the Japanese government has employed around 20 different lobbying and public relations firms to work advocate on behalf of the trade deal. According to The Hill, Japan “spent more than $2.3 million on U.S. consultants from 2014 through the beginning of this year.” Among the many firms that Japan has on retainer are the powerful Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and the Podesta Group, both of which ranked in the “Top 10 Most Influential Lobbying Firms” in Lobbyists.info’s most recent Factors of Influence Report at numbers 6 and 2, respectively.