WASHINGTON - Japan and the United States might arrange for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit Washington in January for talks with President Barack Obama on trade and security issues, a U.S. government source said Saturday.
The governments are discussing the matter on the assumption that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact will be concluded by the end of the year, the source said.
The TPP is being stalled partly because Tokyo and Washington are still wrestling over major trade issues, including U.S. access to Japan’s protected automobile market and Japan’s desire to keep tariffs in place on five “sacred” agricultural products.
Settling disagreements between the two largest economies in the framework is seen as vital to getting the agreement done for all 12 nations involved in the free trade pact.
The United States sounded out Japan about Abe visiting in early 2015, the source said, apparently to encourage Japan to speed up deliberations and make more concessions.
If the visit takes place, Abe would reaffirm Japan’s desire to cooperate with Obama on implementing the TPP and other issues, the source said.
Abe last visited the U.S. capital to meet with Obama in February 2013, two months after taking office.
Neither Abe nor Obama is optimistic about solving bilateral TPP issues any time soon.
Politicians in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party with strong ties to the farm industry are demanding that Japan’s tariffs on rice, wheat, beef, pork, dairy products and sugar be kept under the TPP.
Many political observers in Washington say the chances of the United States dealing with Japan’s position in a flexible manner ahead of the midterm congressional elections in November look slim.
The source said both sides believe the Nov. 10 to 11 summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing could serve as a deadline for the 12 countries to reach a broad deal on the TPP talks.
But it is uncertain whether the 12 countries — which also include Canada, Australia and Mexico — can strike a deal by the end of the year, due to remaining differences between developed and emerging countries over matters such as intellectual property rights and reforms of state-run enterprises.
On the security front, if summit talks are held in January, Abe and Obama can discuss how to strengthen the bilateral alliance based on Japan’s new controversial defense policy, which allows Japan to use the right to collective self-defense, according to the source.
Earlier this year, Abe’s government agreed to reinterpret the Constitution, rather than amend it, to get around the ban on collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under armed attack. This will let the Self-Defense Forces to help the U.S. during a contingency even if Japan itself is not under attack, allow Japan to get dragged into a war.
Japan and the U.S. are working to revise their bilateral defense guidelines by the end of the year. In the first revision since 1997, the guidelines are likely to cover such issues as how to help the U.S. military with contingencies involving the Korean Peninsula, and their commitment to boosting cooperation in the space and cybersecurity domains.