Five Congressional staff participated in the 20th US Congressional Staff Exchange Program, which was held on August 23–30, 2008, in Tokyo, Japan. The delegation, which consisted primarily of staff members focusing on financial and economic issues, met with a wide range of Diet members, government officials, business leaders, policy experts, and journalists to discuss the changing political dynamics in Japan, the role of US-Japan relations in an evolving East Asian context, and US-Japan cooperation on international trade and financial issues.
In order to get an assessment of how Japan’s policymaking process has been evolving and prospects for future US-Japan partnerships, the Congressional staff members met with high-ranking members of the House of Representatives. Members included Representative Ichiro Aisawa (LDP), chair of the House Committee on the Budget, along with Koichi Kato, former LDP secretary-general and former director-general of the Japan Defense Agency as well as Isamu Ueda of the New Komeito Party, former senior vice minister of finance. Their discussions with these political leaders, as well as with various foreign policy experts and journalists, focused largely on Japanese and US domestic political dynamics and how they affect foreign policy.
In regards to finance and business issues, the delegation met with a range of American and Japanese business leaders, including Shigemitsu Sugisaki, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs and former deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and executives at the Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation). On the financial crisis, Japanese leaders—some of whom were deeply involved with the Japanese banking crisis of the 1990s—foreshadowed what was to come in September and October of 2008 by arguing that the US government needs to be proactive in injecting public money into financial institutions to avoid further damage. Meanwhile, on the subject of international trade, Japanese as well as American business leaders living in Japan, argued that the US and Japan should set the establishment of a US-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) as a long-term goal.
Another important issue addressed in some of the meetings was that of climate change and the role emerging energy technologies can play. To address this in-depth, the delegation met NEC executives and visited an NEC plant to discuss innovative industry initiatives on environmental and energy policy. Taizo Yakushiji of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office also spoke with them about the Japanese government’s measures to tackle climate change.
On the final day of the study trip, the Congressional staffers met with US-Japan Conference on Culture and Educational Interchange (CULCON) members to discuss strengthening grassroots and political exchanges between the two countries.
We owe special thanks to the former members of Congress who took the time to assist with the selection of this year’s delegation, Speaker Thomas S. Foley and Congressman Bill Frenzel.
JEFF CHOUDHRY, Legislative Director, Office of Representative Trent Franks
DEREK DORN, Counsel for Tax and Economic Policy, Office of Senator Jeff Bingaman; Staff Director, Senate Finance Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure
JASON EDGAR, Senior Legislative Assistant, Office of Representative Dave Reichert
DAVID OXNER, Professional Staff Member, Committee on Financial Services
ROBERT PRIMUS, Chief of Staff, Office of Representative Mike Capuano; Senior Policy Advisor, Committee on House Administration