TPP more ambitious than Japan-Australia deal: U.S. trade chief

Kyodo

The U.S. trade chief said Tuesday that the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative aims at a higher level of trade liberalization than the accord reached by Japan and Australia, playing down the impact of the bilateral agreement on the broader TPP negotiations.

“I don’t think it (the Japan-Australia free trade agreement) has much effect one way or the other” on the 12-country TPP talks, said U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, who is slated to meet with his Japanese counterpart, Akira Amari, in Tokyo on Wednesday to discuss outstanding TPP issues.

Referring to the reduction of Japanese tariffs on Australian beef agreed by the two countries, Froman said he is “looking for a level of an ambition in TPP that is significantly higher than that.”

Froman was speaking to reporters as he arrived at Narita airport Tuesday afternoon.

Tokyo and Canberra, both involved in the U.S.-led TPP talks, reached a broad agreement Monday on a bilateral free trade accord after seven years of negotiations, which some trade observers say could spur the TPP talks that have become bogged down amid bickering between Tokyo and Washington over Japanese tariffs on beef and pork, rice, wheat, sugar and dairy products.

Japan has decided to slash its tariff on Australian frozen beef, mainly used for processed food for restaurants, to 19.5 percent in 18 years and that on chilled beef, sold in supermarkets, to 12.5 percent in 15 years, both from the current 38.5 percent, giving Australia preferential treatment in the Japanese market compared with the United States.

Expectations are growing that the United States — which has urged Japan to open up its agricultural market based on the TPP principle of scrapping all tariffs — could be content with tariff rates equivalent to Australia’s, but Froman apparently suggested that more drastic tariff cuts by Japan are necessary to conclude the TPP talks.

Tokyo and Washington are accelerating their efforts to solve remaining problems before U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Tokyo later this month. Prior to the planned meeting between Amari and Froman, the two countries resumed working-level talks Monday.

Froman said he would like to see during his planned talks with Amari if they can make progress and use the opportunity of Obama’s visit to “bring our positions closer together on TPP.”

Hiroshi Oe, Japanese deputy chief negotiator for the TPP, said after meeting with his U.S. counterpart, Wendy Cutler, on Tuesday that they had been unable to bridge differences to the degree required to bring the issues to the ministerial level.

“The bargaining will be tough” on Wednesday, Oe told reporters.

The TPP negotiations involve Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.