Tokyo, Washington agree to stay course on sealing TPP

Kyodo, AP

Japan and the United States have agreed to continue to work closely on speedily concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks, trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi said after meeting Saturday with the U.S. trade chief on the fringes of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Motegi, the Economy, Trade and Industry minister, said he urged Washington to show more flexibility in his meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

Froman called on both sides to do so, Motegi said.

The 12 TPP countries bordering the Pacific Ocean have been struggling to seal a pact at an early date after missing a much-touted 2013 deadline for an agreement at their last ministerial meeting in December in Singapore.

Tokyo and Washington have been at odds over how to deal with tariffs that Japan seeks to retain on five “sacred” farm product categories. The U.S.-led TPP aims in principle to abolish all tariffs.

Farm minister Yoshimasa Hayashi also met separately with Froman and said they discussed tariffs on the five sensitive categories, which are rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and sugar. He declined to elaborate.

The U.S. government, which hopes an outcome can be reached before midterm elections in November, is proposing convening the next 12-country ministerial meeting in late February, but it has yet to be confirmed.

TPP nations initially sought to hold such a meeting in January, but decided to delay it because there was little chance of overcoming the huge gaps over such issues as tariffs, intellectual property rights as well as reform of state-owned firms.

In a separate meeting of trade ministers, meanwhile, chiefs of the world’s biggest economies pledged to broaden a deal to boost global trade, with the U.S. saying nothing is off-limits.

At a Swiss-hosted meeting on the sidelines of the WEF, ministers from China, the European Union, Japan, the U.S. and 15 other nations agreed to build on the “positive momentum” of a World Trade Organization summit last December in Bali where its 159 member economies agreed to cut customs red tape.

Motegi said Saturday’s discussion focused on “how to go forward with the WTO” while also implementing the red tape-cutting provisions previously agreed to in Bali. Japan, he said, has shown “a considerable amount of flexibility” during the talks and hopes the U.S. will be similarly flexible.

The ministers agreed to address the most difficult remaining negotiating topics of agriculture, market access and services that eluded an agreement last month in the first WTO deal since the global trade body was formed in 1995, said Swiss Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann, who hosted the meeting.

BOJ’s Kuroda cautious


Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda expressed cautious optimism on the global economy at a discussion in Davos, Switzerland, on Saturday.

The U.S. economy is “likely to grow by 3 percent this year and next year,” and the European economy is “finally recovering and growing,” Kuroda said. Japan is also making “significant progress” and can get out of deflation, he noted.

“We have to be always mindful of” downside risks, Kuroda said, but added, “I think we can be cautiously optimistic about the global economic outlook.”

“There is still a long way to go” before the central bank reaches its 2 percent inflation target, the BOJ chief said.