Shapiro: Obama-Abe summit key

JIJI

The upcoming Japan-U.S. summit will be a key opportunity for concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, former senior U.S. trade official Ira Shapiro has suggested.

A bilateral agreement between Japan and the United States will be a “trigger” for a broader agreement, Shapiro said during a recent interview in Tokyo.

A meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, scheduled for April, would be “the most important time,” said Shapiro, former general counsel and ambassador in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative under the administration of former President Bill Clinton.

“The real question is whether the United States and Japan can resolve their differences in their bilateral discussions,” he said, adding, “the other countries will hold back until that happens.”

Japan and the United States have been in a tug of war as both sides seek to win exceptional treatment for some of their key products, such as Japanese rice and American automobiles, despite the TPP’s no-exception principle.

“One of the difficulties in a negotiation is having credible deadlines, which force people to make their best offers and make the compromises necessary to reach an agreement,” Shapiro said. The TPP talks lack such a deadline, he added.

While acknowledging the importance of the upcoming TPP ministerial meeting in Singapore from Saturday, Shapiro pointed out that negotiations can go on for a long time without an agreement unless negotiators are given instructions from the highest level.

The Obama-Abe meeting would be a “credible action-forcing mechanism,” he said.