Japan-U.S. accord still seen as key to TPP deal


An agreement between Japan and the United States is still a key element before the envisioned Trans-Pacific Partnership can become a reality, according to informed sources.

Ministers from 12 TPP negotiation member states, including Japan and the United States, will gather for three days in Sydney starting Oct. 25 in hopes of ironing out the massive free trade accord.

Ahead of the meeting, Japan’s TPP minister, Akira Amari, and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman met late last month to discuss the sticking points between their two nations, such as agriculture. But the talks ended in failure, dimming prospects for an early TPP deal among the 12 countries.

A statement by Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb on Thursday said participants at the Sydney meeting “will work to progress negotiations with an eye to concluding the basic elements of the agreement before the end of the year.”

The participants “will address key outstanding issues in the negotiations, including agricultural market access, intellectual property and the disciplines on state-owned enterprises,” the statement said.

The 12 TPP countries have been trying to reach a broad agreement by the end of November. Robb’s statement marks an effective extension of the deadline.

“There are many issues regarding intellectual property alone,” a Japanese official said. “It is difficult to achieve a broad agreement, or the conclusion of all negotiations except for those related to minor adjustments of the text of the TPP agreement.”

Even an agreement on “the basic elements” appears difficult. At a meeting between Amari and Froman on Sept. 23 and 24, the two sides couldn’t even get to discuss their biggest sticking point, Japan’s safeguard import restrictions on U.S. beef.

In the auto parts sector, Japan wants the United States to scrap its tariffs immediately. But at a recent working-level meeting, U.S. officials hinted that they want more than 20 years to scrap the tariffs.

“We’ve realized that they have no intention to start serious discussions until they achieve intended results in the area of agriculture,” said a source with access to the bilateral negotiations.

There are signs that the two countries are trying to mend fences at a very high level.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had talks with Vice President Joe Biden during his recent visit to New York to confirm that the two countries will become more flexible so that they can reach an agreement.

But it is unclear when the two countries will be able to restart bilateral talks. Froman is sticking to pursuing an ambitious, high-level agreement, while Amari says being overly ambitious is self-defeating.

The 12 countries are arranging a meeting of their top negotiators for as early as Oct. 19, ahead of the Australian ministerial talks.