U.S. and Japan Free Trade Agreement

Lamont Colucci Foreign Policy Article in the Washington Times

Lamont Colucci

In 1853, an American naval squadron with lead ships Susquehanna and Mississippi steamed into Tokyo Bay and anchored off of Uraga. This event, set into motion by a never remembered president, Millard Fillmore, and led by a famous American naval officer, Matthew Perry, created the terms for a complex and symbiotic relationship that no other two countries share. The intellectual cry of the Japanese reformers of the 19th century, a direct result of this American opening, was bunmei kaika (civilization and enlightenment), whose central tenet was the westernization and modernization of Japan, the mania of which almost replaced the Japanese language with English.

If we fast forward to 1990, former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski advocated the creation of “Amerippon” to create a special strategic and economic partnership between the United States and Japan whose economic clout, based on control of 40 percent of the world’s GDP, could be fully realized. The new American administration can make all of this a needed reality.

In light of the media obsession with the economic downturn, the war in Iraq and the flavor of the month, we often forget that the stability of the international system is determined on longstanding relationships and strategic planning. One way we can address this economic crisis is to use this opportunity to push for a U.S./Japan Free Trade Agreement (FTA) – lost in an election dominated by domestic economics was any real discussion of trade and its interdependence with diplomacy.

President-elect Barack Obama can explode the fear among world leaders that he is a closet protectionist by making his flagship foray into international trade waters the U.S./Japan FTA. He can further reassure a critical ally that the United States is ever more committed to the U.S./Japan military and political alliance by demonstrating leadership in this area of economic diplomacy. No country has been more open to American culture and soft power outside of Europe and Canada than Japan (perhaps more so). America has 11 FTAs with 17 countries (two of them Pacific Rim countries, Australia and Singapore) and a recently negotiated agreement with South Korea. Japan has pursued most of her FTAs with Asian countries, but the recently negotiated agreement between the U.S. and South Korea sent a jolt throughout Japan similar to the shock they received over NAFTA.

These fears cut to the heart of Japanese trepidation, especially regarding the United States and isolationism, neglect and abandonment. If Japan wishes to avoid this, and in particular if she wants to compete with China for political and economic influence, she will encourage the creation of “Amerippon.” Her most difficult constraints are her xenophobic agricultural lobby, lack of consistency from government ministries, and a deficiency of transparency. The U.S. can only commit to an FTA if it is comprehensive. However, it will take political leadership in Washington for the Japanese to create the political will to overcome their obstacles. The incoming Obama administration can make this a top priority, especially in light of the world economic crisis. Studies indicate that the current trade between the U.S. and Japan of $200 billion would be exponentially enhanced. If 10 percent of the service sectors were liberalized, Japan would gain $130 billion and the U.S. $150 billion. If 30 percent were liberalized, the total enhancement would be $350 billion.

This kind of agreement is real diplomacy with a real ally. It bolsters the Mutual Security system, cross-cultural relations, and widens the door for military, political, and technological cooperation and partership. One cannot divorce political from economic diplomacy, and the majority of advocates for the FTA ignore these other factors.

If the United States wishes to combat the rise of an aggressive China and a renewed expansionist Russia, a solidification of the partnership with Japan is an absolute necessity. There are national security issues at stake here, not merely economic ones. Further, if the U.S. wishes to truly pursue the creation of a League of Democracies, what better springboard to do this from than a series of free trade agreements with our democratic allies. The liberalization of trade is a fundamental of the free market system, making it a bedrock of political democracy.

The Free Trade Agreement with Japan can serve our economic, military, diplomatic and core values in one fell swoop. The new administration’s push for “Amerippon” can demonstrate the kind of foreign policy dynamism this president will sorely need.

Dr. Lamont Colucci, a former diplomat with the U.S. Department of State, is an assistant professor of politics and Government at Ripon College.