WASHINGTON – The United States will push Japan to reduce tariffs on agricultural products beyond levels agreed to under a free trade agreement between Japan and the European Union, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue indicated Thursday.
“We think frankly that we are a better ally of Japan than the European Union is and we would expect to have an equal or better deal than Japan gave the European Union regarding agriculture,” Perdue told journalists.
The remark came after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed last week to start negotiations for a bilateral trade agreement on goods based on the understanding that Washington will not demand deeper farm tariff cuts than levels in Japan’s trade pacts such as the Japan-EU FTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an 11-member regional FTA.
“We’ve been a great protectionist of Japan and their country for many years and this is what President Trump is saying,” Perdue said.
According to a joint statement issued after an Abe-Trump meeting on Sept. 26 in New York, the two governments agreed that in conducting trade negotiations, they will “respect” positions of the other party.
“For Japan, with regard to agricultural, forestry and fishery products, outcomes related to market access as reflected in Japan’s previous economic partnership agreements constitute the maximum level,” the statement said.
The Japanese government responded on Friday by saying it will act based on the agreement reached between Abe and Trump.
“I refrain from making any comment on remarks from every single U.S. official,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference in Tokyo.
Levels of trade liberalization under the Japan-EU FTA are similar to those under the TPP, from which Trump withdrew the United States last year. Japan has made larger concessions on wine, spaghetti and soft cheese with Europe in comparison to the TPP, whose members include Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico and Singapore.
Under the Japan-EU pact, Japan will eliminate tariffs on 94 percent of all imports from the European Union, including 82 percent of agriculture and fishery products.
Japan and the European Union — which signed the pact in July — aim to put the FTA into force by late March next year, when the U.K. is scheduled to leave the 28-member bloc.
Sources also said Thursday that Washington and Tokyo are arranging an economic dialogue in mid-November in Japan involving Vice President Mike Pence and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso.
The topic of the Pence-Aso meeting could turn to negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement, which Toshimitsu Motegi, the economic and fiscal policy minister, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer last month agreed to begin.