A new round of talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade scheme started on Aug. 22 in Brunei and will continue through Aug. 30. The United States, a leading force in the TPP talks, took the initiative in holding a ministerial-level meeting on the first two days of the talks. The U.S. apparently hopes to accelerate the talks so that they will be concluded by the end of this year.
Last week, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman met in Tokyo with economic and fiscal policy minister Akira Amari and trade and industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi and expressed the hope that participation in the talks by Japan, which joined the talks for the first time at a July 23-25 round in Malaysia, will not have the effect of deterring progress on the talks.
Japan should not make hasty and unnecessary concessions in the talks under the pressure from the U.S. It should conduct negotiations in a tenacious manner.
In the Malaysia talks, Japan could not join discussions on market access for industrial and agricultural products because, by the time it joined the talks, the discussions were over.
Therefore, it could not talk about the issue of tariffs on five categories of products — rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and agricultural products to make sugar — for which Japan wants to retain high tariffs.
Tariffs on industrial and agricultural products are the focus of the Brunei talks. There should be intense bargaining because the 12 participating countries will make clear to what extent they are ready to abolish tariffs.
They have categories of products for which they want to keep tariffs at home as well as categories of products for which they want other participating countries to reduce tariffs.
Discussions on tariffs are mainly conducted in bilateral talks. Japan must find out the areas for which participants want to retain tariffs at home and the areas for which they want other participants to reduce tariffs, by carefully analyzing the TPP negotiations document that it obtained during the Malaysia talks.
In talks on tariffs, each participant classifies all the items into three groups — those items whose tariffs can be abolished as soon as the TPP goes into effect, those whose tariffs will be abolished after a certain period of time and undecided items. Japan plans to place the five categories of agricultural products mentioned above and some fisheries products in the group of undecided items.
Japan should take advantage of the fact that the TPP talks are multilateral talks. It should try to find participating countries that share similar interests and form cooperative relationships that will strengthen their mutual negotiating positions. By doing so, Japan can maximize its national interests in the TPP talks.
For example, Vietnam, which is exporting textile products, wants abolition of tariffs on such products while the U.S., which wants to protect its own textile industry, is on the defensive. Japan should work with Vietnam in a manner that can lead to mutually beneficial results for both countries.