WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may be able to declare next week that the U.S. and Japan have all but completed their part of negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, Japan’s ambassador to the U.S. said.
Kenichiro Sasae said in Washington that while some issues remain to be settled on autos and agriculture, he hopes Abe and Obama will announce agreement on the trade pact when the Japanese leader visits the White House on April 28.
“All the gaps are substantially narrowed,” Sasae said Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We are in the final stage.”
Japan and the U.S. are the two biggest economies negotiating the 12-nation trade deal and an agreement between them would be a major boost for Obama’s pursuit of a trade deal that would link economies across the Pacific, making up roughly 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman early Tuesday morning concluded the latest round of negotiations in Tokyo. He characterized the talks as having “substantially narrowed” the differences with Japan.
As is often the case in trade negotiations, the final issues are also the most contentious.
In this case, they involve the conditions under which the U.S. will phase out a 2.5 percent tariff on cars, and how Japan will open its long-protected rice market.
The U.S.-Japan negotiations are only part of the process to reach a TPP agreement. The Obama administration has said it wants to wrap those talks up this year, but it needs trade promotion authority to do so.
Obama is working to line up support from his fellow Democrats for legislation that would give him authority to negotiate the trade accord and submit it to Congress for a yes- or-no vote, known as fast track authority.
The administration is supporting a bill giving him trade promotion authority that was negotiated by Sens. Orrin Hatch, the Republican chairman of the Finance Committee that oversees trade policy, and Ron Wyden, the panel’s top Democrat.
The latest obstacle is an an amendment being pushed by Charles Schumer, in line to become the Senate’s Democratic leader in 2017, and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown that would put enforceable currency manipulation language into the fast-track bill rather than have it considered as separate legislation.