WASHINGTON – The United States pressed Japan on Thursday to open its farm and auto markets to overseas competition and said it cannot expect special treatment in a Pacific free trade pact covering one-third of global imports and exports.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told U.S. lawmakers that Japan’s reluctance to lower trade barriers is holding up agreement on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will stretch from Asia to Latin America.
Despite intense talks between the United States and Japan, the two biggest economies in the negotiations, Japan has yet to come forward with an offer to close the gaps on trade in farm goods and autos.
“It’s time for Japan to step up to the plate,” Froman told the House Ways and Means Committee during a three-hour hearing on U.S. trade policy agenda.
Washington’s frustration at the slow progress in formal negotiations on the TPP, a centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s push to expand the United States’ presence in Asia, is growing as talks enter their fifth year.
Japan was the last to join in 2013. The move raised the stakes for all participants, given the size of Japan’s economy, but some say it was premature given its desire to protect its sensitive rice, wheat, beef, pork, dairy and sugar products.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Republican, said Japan should be cut out of the talks if it is not ready to make the necessary commitments.
Froman said such a decision is up to Japan, but that one country cannot refuse to negotiate on sensitive issues while others put up more ambitious offers.
“All the other countries are waiting for Japan to play its appropriate role in these negotiations, and once the market access piece falls into place we expect to be able to resolve the other issues,” Froman said.
Obama is expected to press the case for an ambitious TPP deal with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a visit to Japan later this month, but USTR officials have played down expectations for a breakthrough.
Two rounds of U.S.-Japan talks on agriculture and autos in the last week made little progress. Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler will visit Tokyo from Monday for further negotiations ahead of Obama’s visit. A further round of broad TPP negotiations is penciled in for May.
Deputy chief trade negotiator Hiroshi Oe said Friday the United States also has to show some flexibility.
The United States had hoped to complete the TPP, which includes Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Malaysia and others, by the end of last year but the timetable has now slipped to later this year.
Aside from Japan, Froman said, one of the biggest challenges is intellectual property protection for biologics, medicines made from a living organism or its products and used in the prevention, diagnosis or treatment of cancer and other diseases.
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