Japan is mulling applying the same beef tariff rates to all 11 other negotiating member countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, including the United States, sources familiar with the negotiations said Tuesday.
Tokyo had considered allowing lower tariffs only for beef imports from the United States, the biggest economy in the proposed TPP framework. It has decided against such preferential treatment as other major beef exporting countries such as Australia and Canada are unlikely to accept unequal terms, the sources said.
Under the tariff-cutting TPP, the United States has strongly urged Japan to abolish duties on beef. Tokyo has rejected completely eliminating beef tariffs but will likely drastically cut them.
Tokyo is considering applying much lower beef import tariffs in the TPP talks than the level agreed in the Japan-Australia bilateral free trade pact struck in April, according to the sources.
Under the bilateral FTA with Australia, Japan agreed to cut its tariffs on beef by up to half from the current 38.5 percent. But it retained the right to restore the rate to 38.5 percent as a temporary measure if imports exceed certain amounts.
Tokyo seeks to introduce similar safeguard measures in the TPP framework to protect domestic farmers.
While the TPP aims for abolition of all tariffs in principle, Japan wants to retain them on key farm products, including beef, which has been one of the biggest sticking points in the negotiations.
On Tuesday, Japan and the United States resumed bilateral talks over Tokyo’s proposed exceptions to tariff elimination for key farm products, with the aim of setting the stage for Tokyo and Washington to secure a two-way agreement within the month.
Ahead of the two days of working-level talks in Tokyo, Akira Amari, Japan’s minister in charge of the TPP negotiations, said it is desirable for the two countries to secure a bilateral deal by the end of September.
A deal between the two largest economies involved in the TPP negotiations is considered vital to advancing the broader talks involving 12 nations. How much progress Tokyo and Washington make this month could determine whether all of the nations can seal a broad deal by year-end as envisioned by President Barack Obama, trade observers said.
Hiroshi Oe, Japan’s deputy chief negotiator for the TPP, and Wendy Cutler, acting deputy U.S. trade representative, head the working-level negotiating teams. They also plan to meet again within this month.
Amari said at a press conference Tuesday that his counterpart, Michael Froman, U.S. trade representative, has sounded him out on arranging a bilateral ministerial meeting.
Amari did not make clear if he is willing to meet soon with Froman, only saying it depends on the results of the Japan-U.S. working-level meeting.
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