Japan launches major blitz on trade

Japan launches major blitz on trade

Japan’s government has launched an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign, as the Asian power works to secure favorable language in a sweeping international trade deal in the late stages of intense negotiations.

Eyeing a bilateral trade agreement with the United States as part of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the country spent more than $2.3 million on U.S. consultants from 2014 through the beginning of this year, according to forms filed to the Justice Department and examined by The Hill.

ADVERTISEMENT
In total, Japan put almost 20 firms on retainer, including its longtime advocates at powerful firms such as Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; Hogan Lovells; Hecht, Spencer & Associates; and the Podesta Group. Those firms each earned six-figure fees for their work over the last year.

“We are doing a lot of talking about how the agriculture industry would be a big winner in this deal — this is really the Super Bowl for the agriculture industry,” Scott Parven, the Akin Gump partner leading the advocacy charge for Japan, told The Hill on Monday. He added that a deal between the two countries would have “economic benefits across many sectors.”

International negotiations surrounding the TPP began to ramp up over the last six months — and so did the country’s advocacy efforts.

Thirteen of the 19 PR and lobbying firms that worked on behalf of the Japanese government in some way had contracts inked in 2014 or 2015, including a recent agreement with a firm run by former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

The effort is reaching full bore as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Washington this week, with scheduled trips to the White House and Capitol Hill. Abe’s address to a joint session of Congress will be a first for any leader of the island nation.

It comes at a crucial moment for the tenuous deal in Congress, where lawmakers are debating contentious trade promotion authority (TPA) or fast-track legislation, which would speed along the TPP deal. The legislation moved through House and Senate committees last week, and advocates are working to shore up critical support for the measure in both chambers ahead of votes expected sometime next month.

Helping to ensure Japan has a voice in the process, Akin Gump was influential in the creation of the U.S.-Japan Caucus in Congress, co-founded last year by Reps. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Joaquín Castro (D-Texas).

Japan paid Akin Gump $638,000 last year, the most of any firm it had on retainer. A team of lobbyists at the firm had more than 80 communications — including meetings, phone calls and emails — with aides on Capitol Hill, officials within the Obama administration and potential allies in the private sector during the last six months of 2014 alone.

The separate bilateral deal with the United States would be folded into the TPP, where negotiators are still working out differences on policies about automobiles and agriculture.

Other firms and individuals that are working or recently finished working for Japan include T. Dean Reed, Orion Strategies and Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications. Some of Japan’s outside help, such as DCI Group, had short-term contracts.

Sacramento-based KP Public Affairs, for instance, has been working since last fall to get California’s agriculture sector on board with the deal.

It reached out to local chambers of commerce and groups including the Almond Board of California, The Wine Institute, the Agricultural Council of California, Blue Diamond Growers, Sunkist and the California Farm Bureau Federation.

The firm also helped write at least three draft letters that organizations could send to members of Congress urging support for TPP and fast-track. Some of those letters garnered powerful co-signers, including BSA | The Software Alliance, Microsoft, Gap, UPS, Proctor & Gamble and Visa.

One letter was signed by dozens of corporations and agriculture trade groups, some of which had spoken with the firm urged support of TPA.

“There are myriad trade deals under negotiation in the Asia-Pacific region, the fastest growing economic region in the world,” according to the letter. “Should Congress not pass TPA, it will signal to our TPP partners and the world that we are turning our back on the fastest growing economic region in the world.”

The trade debate has created a rather unusual alliance between President Obama and congressional Republicans, who have each elevated trade to the top of their economic agendas. 

Hecht, Spencer & Associates, which has represented Japan since 2001, made several contacts with Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFreedom Caucus members see openings in leadership Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Ex-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups MORE’s (R-Ohio) office in December and January, according to records.

Critics of Japanese economic policies in Congress and the private sector have argued for inserting provisions to prohibit currency manipulation, which may curb some of the overall momentum for the deal.

When asked whether the currency manipulation issue could cause problems for the deal, Parven says: “This will all sort itself out in the end — successfully.”