Japan, U.S. still far apart on farm products, autos

Abe-Obama deal on TPP unlikely


Japan and the United States are not expected to announce a broad bilateral agreement for a Pacific trade pact when their leaders meet Thursday in Tokyo, as they remain considerably apart over the issue of market access for agricultural products and automobiles.

Akira Amari, minister in charge of Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks, on Tuesday signaled that bridging Japan-U.S. gaps over the remaining problems in their bilateral talks related to the TPP would be difficult.

The two countries have been trying to reach a broad accord for announcement when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama meet.

“There is still a considerable distance” between the two sides, Amari said at a press conference.

Bickering between Tokyo and Washington — the two largest economies in the TPP — has held up broader negotiations involving a total of 12 countries. The bilateral summit has been seen by some as a possible opportunity to advance the stalled talks.

Tokyo has sought to retain tariffs on five farm product categories it views as off-limits — rice, wheat, beef and pork, sugar, and dairy products — amid strong concern from the domestic agricultural industry, a politically strong and highly protected sector in the country, over the TPP.

Washington, which has called on Tokyo to further open up its farm market, wants to retain its auto tariffs as long as possible.

With the summit approaching, a total of 63 U.S. House lawmakers on Monday urged U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a letter to press Tokyo to do more to eliminate trade barriers on agricultural products.

The letter also expressed concerns that Japan’s demand to exempt the farm products from tariff cuts “could undermine the careful balance of concessions” achieved by the other 11 TPP members, adding such an attitude could prompt other TPP members to demand similar treatment and put the TPP itself at risk of “unraveling.”

Amari also said that Japan and the United States need to reach a stage where they can “expect” to resolve the issues of agriculture and autos, or “something close to that,” to be able to announce a broad deal, suggesting the two countries are still far from that goal.

On Tuesday, Japan and the United States resumed working-level talks in Tokyo to try to make as much progress as possible before the summit.

Froman will visit Tokyo along with Obama from Wednesday as part of the president’s weeklong Asian tour, his office said.

Amari said he may consider meeting with Froman again prior to the summit “depending on how much progress is made at the working level.”

The two countries have had intense discussions in the past few weeks in light of the summit. Last week, Amari and Froman met for three days in Washington.

Negotiation sources said that Abe and Obama will likely at least hail progress in the TPP negotiations following their talks, with the next TPP ministerial meeting being arranged for late May in Singapore.

  • LieutenantCharlie

    It would appear that Obama is not seriously trying to obtain a good TPP with Japan.

  • As an American, I hope the Trans-Pacific Partnership never gets approval or comes into law. The sections of the treaty that have been leaked as a draft show something written largely by special interests that will not serve the greater interests of people in the United States or Japan.

    The majority of the treaty has NOTHING to do with free, fair and open trade as much of the pact is a wish list of policy changes that could never pass approval in the open legislative processes of either of our countries.

    • Mark Garrett

      And what would you suggest to bridge the trade gap?

      • I have no problem with a trade pact that is actually a free trade pact and not a corporatist’s dream. Fair and equitable trade is in the best interest of the US and Japan.

        The US is pushing terms that would allow foreign companies the ability to sue governments because they impose rules or limits that harm their limitless quest for profit. This would include reasonable laws designed to protect water resources, limit pollution or possibly zoning. This is a loss of sovereignty that should not be allowed or considered. State and local governments could and will be sued for imposing laws designed to protect their people and resources by companies that see the earth as a pile of assets to be liquidated.

        Likewise, the TPP is larded with rules sought largely by US media companies that would substantially change the internet. The kind of IP policies included in the leaked draft of the TPP were not able to pass the Congress on their own merit after the public became aware of them and opposed them. Outfits like the MPAA and RIAA and their member companies are pushing for this back door legislation.

        Next, Free Trade should not be one sided. The interests of capital and labor should be balanced. Allowing the free movement of investment to seek the lowest cost while denying workers the ability to seek employment anywhere applies a significant downward pressure on wages. Likewise, rules regarding unionization need to be standardized so that workers are not harmed by lowest common denominator policies in one country affecting all.

        Finally, the trade pact does not address the abuse by corporations and individuals of existing laws for the purposes of tax avoidance. Corporations seek the rights of individuals before the law but wish to avoid any responsibility or obligation when it comes time to pay a fair share of the tax burden.

      • Mark Garrett

        Well-stated and compelling. Thank you.

  • FunkyB

    I’m also American and I also hope the TPP dies a quick death and never happens. All of these articles talk about negotiation stand points, but say nothing about how the content of the law would help the economy or business for ordinary people in either country. It has been concocted by global special interests behind closed doors and if the small portions that have made it into the public light are any indication, this would never gain public approval in either country if it was being passed through normal legislative processes.

    However, it is not, as elements in the US government (unfortunately in the executive branch) are trying to “fast-track” it so that Congress doesn’t even see the full content of the law they are enacting. Yet Congress, especially the House, doesn’t seem to mind. This is a dereliction of duty and possibly even unconstitutional on the US side.

  • Mark Garrett

    Asking you the people?? I have never seen a more disengaged apathetic nation in all my travels. 99% of the people I talk to here don’t know and don’t care about any of the current political issues.

  • Mark Garrett

    Yes, you misunderstood me. I mean in all the countries around the world that I’ve traveled to over the last 30 years.

    I’ve lived in Japan for nearly 8 years and have met and taught hundreds and hundreds of Japanese of all ages and backgrounds and almost all of them have little more than a casual interest in politics. Fewer still actually speak up and try to affect any real change. It took an epic earthquake, devastating tsunami and nuclear nightmare to get even small rallies and demonstrations formed.