Failure by Japanese and U.S. negotiators to reach a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is making headlines across Japan and raising concerns about the implications for U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip here later this month.
But as two U.S. congressional representatives and a Washington-based group opposed to the TPP said Friday morning, such commentary obscures a more important reality, which is that regardless of what is announced by Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the final TPP agreement must still be approved by Congress, where opposition to the pact, and to granting Obama the fast track authority to negotiate it, is strong and unlikely to change anytime soon.
As for Japan, long-standing pressure by congressional representatives from America’s beef and pork producing areas or those close to the auto industry to get Japan to reduce tariffs remains strong.
“There are concerns in Congress about (gaining) access to the (Japanese) auto market, especially the truck market,” said Congressman Brad Sherman, a California Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, which handles trade issues, in a telephone press conference late Thursday night.
Sherman and Alan Grayson, a Democratic congressman from Florida on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also worry that goods labeled “Made in Japan” might actually be mostly manufactured in China and only sent to Japan for final assembly.
A final TPP agreement lacking a strict rules-of-origin agreement means products could be exported to the U.S. as a “Japan product” that’s not subject to tariffs, giving China, which is not a TPP member, a back door into the U.S. market.
There is also congressional unease over what TPP means for offshore manufacturing, possibly in Japan, of U.S. defense technologies.
A Department of Defense report from last October warned of a threat to U.S. defense capabilities from offshore manufacturing in the form of a compromised supply chain for key weapons systems components.
In a separate telephone interview with The Japan Times, Lori Wallach, director of the Washington-based Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said Japan’s participation in the TPP is of less concern in Washington compared to what the deal means for U.S.-China relations.
“The only reason for the U.S. to include Japan in TPP is to sell beef, pork and rice, and to try to change Japan’s health care system to allow more pharmaceuticals. Brunei was treated by the U.S. with more respect. But I’m more surprised that Abe accepted (the U.S.) treatment,” Wallach said.
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