After more than a decade in the making, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is one small step closer to fruition. A special committee in Japan's Parliament, the Diet, formally approved the deal Nov. 5, clearing the way for the Lower House to debate the agreement Nov. 8. If the Lower House approves the deal, it will move to the Upper House, where lawmakers will have 30 days to deliberate over and vote on the measure. Given Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's strong support for the agreement and his ruling coalition's supermajority in both houses of the Diet, the deal's ratification is all but certain in Japan. The same cannot be said, however, of the TPP's 11 other signatory countries.
Once the deal's member countries signed the TPP in February, it came under intense — and, for many signatories, unexpected — scrutiny in the United States. Both major-party candidates in the U.S. presidential race have stated their opposition to the deal, and several key legislators have signaled that they may not support it. On Sept. 29, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated that the Senate would not hear the deal until after President Barack Obama's term ends in January 2017. Because the deal requires legislative ratification from at least six participating countries representing 85 percent of the pact's total gross domestic product to take effect, the TPP's political troubles in Washington have cast doubt on its future. (The United States alone accounts for 60 percent of the signatories' collective GDP.) This is bad news for Tokyo. Failure to enact the TPP would not only hinder the Abe administration's efforts to implement structural economic reforms, but it would also benefit China, whose rise the deal is in part intended to constrain. As the TPP has floundered in recent months, Beijing has ramped up its efforts to promote alternative agreements more favorable to its economic and strategic interests.
Against this backdrop, the Abe administration hopes that Japan's ratification will lend the deal the momentum it needs to gain congressional approval in the United States. Tokyo will also try to use its formalization to encourage other signatories reluctant to ratify without the United States' accession, such as Vietnam and Malaysia, to fast-track TPP approval in their own legislatures. Still, Japan's success in this endeavor is far from guaranteed. Compared with smaller signatory countries that walk a fine line in balancing their relations with the United States and Japan on one hand and China on the other, Tokyo has less to lose if the TPP passes — and more at stake if it fails.