In advance of President Obama's summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week, Scott Parven was working round the clock to pave the way for an announcement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed free-trade agreement that would include a dozen countries around the Pacific Rim.
"These two countries need each other," said Parven, a lawyer with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld who represents the Embassy of Japan. "With the ascendance of China in the region, the U.S.-Japan relationship is critical not just economically but geopolitically. There's much at stake beyond economics in these talks. The [Trans-Pacific Partnership] has implications for the relationship generally."
To Parven's chagrin, Obama left Tokyo without having persuaded Japan to join the TPP. Nonetheless, Parven is hopeful that a deal is forthcoming, especially as trade negotiators exert more pressure on recalcitrant stakeholders like Japanese rice-growers and the U.S. auto industry.
"Because of the importance of the deal, and the importance of the relationship, both governments are asking their core constituencies to stretch a little bit for the benefit of all," he said.
Parven — who has made a living explaining U.S. domestic politics to Japan, Korea, Panama, Peru, and other foreign governments — noted the irony of Obama's zeal for the TPP. During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-Sen. Obama lambasted another free-trade deal, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he blamed for high unemployment in the industrial Midwest.
A native of Hartford, Conn., Parven attended Vassar College and later earned a law degree from the University of Virginia. "At the time, all I really wanted to do was work for Major League Baseball and run a club," he said. "And I might have done it had I not been turned down for an internship" with then-Commissioner Fay Vincent.
Instead, Parven returned to Hartford and was hired by Aetna, helping the insurance giant establish public-private partnerships around the world and expand its operations in Asia and Latin America. Parven's crowning achievement was helping Aetna secure a life-insurance license in China.
Before coming to Akin Gump, he was the founder and president of Parven Pomper Strategies.
Parven, 49, is bullish on the prospect of a stronger U.S.-Japanese relationship, which he said was reinforced by Obama's decision last year to appoint Caroline Kennedy as U.S. ambassador to Japan. He believes that the TPP has the potential to be a template for 21st-century trade agreements.
"We all want the TPP to be the gold standard," he said, adding, "The real prize would be the inclusion of Japan."