WASHINGTON – U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer urged Japan on Wednesday to make “unilateral concessions” on beef imports to help reduce its trade surplus with the United States.
“I think in the areas like beef and the others, they ought to make some unilateral concessions — at least temporary concessions,” Lighthizer said at a hearing at the Senate Committee on Finance, prodding the world’s third-largest economy to further open its beef market.
“And I don’t quite understand why that doesn’t happen,” he said. “That’s a simple way to get that trade deficit down and doesn’t cost them anything.”
It was not known what kind of concessions Lighthizer was referring to, but he may be calling for reducing a 38.5 percent tariff Japan imposes on fresh and frozen beef cuts imported from the United States.
Lighthizer’s remarks may reflect concern that the United States now lags behind other major farming nations, such as Australia, in exporting beef to Japan, the world’s third-largest economy.
Japan, for example, has begun lowering its tariffs on Australian beef from 38.5 percent in stages since a Japan-Australia free trade agreement took effect in 2015.
Lighthizer criticized Japan for posting a trade surplus with the United States “for decades,” but said that Tokyo does not seem to be interested in holding trade negotiations bilaterally with Washington.
President Donald Trump’s administration, which withdrew the United States from a nascent 12-nation trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership in January, is conducting a strategic and economic analysis of which of the remaining 11 TPP members the country should start bilateral trade talks with, according to Lighthizer.
“The president’s idea is to have a series of bilateral agreements,” he said. “We’re in a process of trying to determine which of those countries should come first.”
Lighthizer made it clear that the United States is unlikely to return to the TPP fold, which includes Japan. “They are hoping the United States will come back and join the TPP, which obviously is not going to happen,” he said.
In Tokyo, the government’s top spokesman said Thursday he was aware of Lighthizer’s remarks but that Tokyo had not formally received any such request.
“The U.S. government has not made any specific calls for increased market access in talks between us, including the Japan-U.S. economic dialogue that was held recently,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.
At the first round of the dialogue in April, helmed by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, the two sides agreed to discuss a bilateral framework for trade and investment rules.
“In any case, we will hold constructive discussion in that dialogue about what sort of bilateral framework is best for Japan-U.S. economic ties,” Suga said.
In his Senate confirmation hearing in March, Lighthizer called Japan “a primary target” for greater market access for U.S. farm products.
Similarly, the Office of the USTR in March urged Japan to fully open its market to U.S. beef and beef products from “animals of all ages.”
In the 2017 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, the office called for removing the remaining part of the import ban Japan imposed in 2003 following the detection of an animal with mad cow disease in the United States.
Currently, Japan allows imports of U.S. beef and beef products from cattle less than 30 months old that are slaughtered in the United States.