Campaigning with Attac Japan

My companion Leena Krohn asked me to go with her to Tokyo for an EU-Japan literary festival and I said yes, also because of the opportunity to meet with Attac Japan. To the emails which I sent to them, I attached the Draft Treaty on Currency Transactions Tax (elaborated a couple of years ago by Denys Lieven and Hekki Patomäki) plus some thoughts from NIGD on how to use it as a campaign tool and to press our governments to call the international conference, which will turn the CTT into reality.

Yoko Akimoto from the secretariat of Attac Japan responded with enthusiasm. Soon she and her friends set out to arrange a veritable speaking tour for me, beginning 4-5 November with a speech and a lecture in Kyoto (this coincided with preparations of the Kyoto Social Forum, which will take place in December) and continuing 8 November in Tokyo, where I met with tradeunionists, discussed the CTT with Japanese MPs, and gave a speech at an open meeting in the evening.

After this tour, my feeling that the CTT is an idea whose time has come, or which is now making a come-back, is even stronger than before. Japan, like the rest of the world, is divided over the war in Iraq and the growing protest against the American way of waging "war against terrorism" will also weaken its adherence to the "Washington Consensus" on world trade and finance. The volume of speculative foreign exchange transactions has made new world records and presidents Lula and Chirac have written global taxes on the international agenda.

Attac Japan, founded in December 2001, is still a small organisation. In the past few weeks, however, it has updated its CTT-dossier with admirable speed and efficiency. Paul Bernd Spahn's article from 1995 on the two-tier model, materials on the recently adopted Belgian Tobin-Spahn Law, and the text of the Draft Treaty on CTT, have all been translated into Japanese and handed out to the participants in the meetings I attended. (Sad to say, we still don't have a Finnish version of the Draft Treaty, although it was a Finn who wrote it, together with a Belgian specialist on taxation law...)

In my speech at Kyoto, I recommended the reading of "Another World Is Possible If...", the new book by Susan George, in which she makes "a plea for the need to build an alternative European model as the basis for an alternative world". In this, I added, the Europeans will need the help of the Japanese. The next thing I learned was that "Another World Is Possible If..." appeared in Japanese already in August. As far as I know, that was a month before the original English version was published...

The meeting on CTT arranged by Attac Japan in the Parlamentary building (Kokkai) in Tokyo last Monday was attended by sixteen MPs and secretaries of MPs, including representatives of the ruling Liberal-Democrats and of the Democrats, which is the biggest opposition party and the chair of the Social Democratic Party.

Having listened to my speech, Mr Tetsundo Iwakuni, MP for the Democratic party and a former international investment banker, said that he is not in principle opposed to a CTT, but that he is concerned with the effect it might have on the Japanese export industry. Would the CTT be levied on all currency transactions, he asked, or would there be exemptions for the necessary trade-related transactions? Several other MPs seemed to share this concern, and were not completely satisfied by my answer that the rate of the first tier of the CTT would be low enough to be accepted by everybody. Ms Wakako Hironaka, former environment minister, said it would be tactically wiser to say that not all currency transactions have to be taxed. - Later, when I told about these discussions with MPs to the open evening meeting, one of the participants came up with the idea of a tax refund. The CTT would be refunded to companies which do not engage in currency speculation. (Such a proposal might be justified and technically feasible, See PS)

Among the MPs who showed their interest in the CTT were also Shoukichi Kina, a famous rock musician from Okinawa, and the social-democratic party leader, Ms Mizuho Fukushima. Ms Fukushima confirmed to me that she would like to start a network with other MPs in order to support the CTT.

Upon my return from Japan I am more convinced than ever that the European branch of the campaign, which concentrates on an implementation of the CTT in the Euro-Zone, and the global branch of the campaign, which also looks to governments in the South, or beyond Europe, to push for the international CTT Treaty, do need and complement each others. The movement Attac, which has effectively spread the idea on all continents and educated masses of people about the CTT during the last five years, can and it should act as backbone to both.

Tokyo-Helsinki 10 November, 2004

Mikael Böök
member of NIGD and of the board of Attac Finland

PS 11 November. Dirk van der Maelen and Geert Lambert, who filed the Belgian law proposal on CTT, take the view that "In practice, it is impossible for third parties to make a clear distinction between speculative capital flows and those that are not". Others, however, have outlined systems where the tax would be refunded to exporters on export receipts. "Such refunds are computed on the same information basis for determining refunds under the value-added tax (VAT), and are claimable on the same administrative basis for granting VAT refunds". See Howard H. Zee: Retarding Short-Term Capital Inflows Through Withholding Tax, IMF Working Paper WP/00/40 , March 2000. Available at .