Business / Economy

American farmers see Japan trade deal leveling playing field with TPP-member rivals

Kyodo

American farmers on Monday welcomed a trade agreement reached in principle between the United States and Japan, saying the tariff-cutting deal would help them gain competitiveness instead of continuing to lose ground to foreign rivals.

“We are very happy that this agreement will end the growing competitive cost advantage that Canadian and Australian wheat imports got” under the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, which took effect last year without the United States, a national wheat association said in a statement.

The U.S. was the leading TPP member but pulled out in 2017 after President Donald Trump said he preferred bilateral trade deals. He has also pushed for a deal to reduce the hefty U.S. trade deficit with Japan.

Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who met Sunday on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit in France, agreed to step up remaining work on the deal to sign it in September.

While the details haven’t been announced yet, Japan is expected to cut tariffs on U.S. farm products including beef, pork, wheat and dairy products to around the same levels as in existing free trade frameworks, such as the revised TPP.

Under the revised TPP, formally known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, Japan’s 38.5 percent tariff on beef imports will be lowered in stages to 9 percent over 16 years.

With Japan the top export market for U.S. beef, U.S. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Jennifer Houston said in a statement that Trump had delivered another “victory” for the U.S. industry.

“Last year, Japanese consumers purchased over $2 billion of U.S. beef, accounting for roughly one-quarter of overall U.S. beef exports. Removing the massive 38.5 percent tariff on U.S. beef will level the playing field in Japan,” she said.

Japan also decided during the Abe-Trump meeting to buy around 2.5 million tons of excess corn in the United States, where the U.S.-China trade war has taken a toll on corn farmers, government sources said.

An association of U.S. corn growers said in a statement Monday that the bilateral agreement is “very encouraging” and that it is examining the potential impact on its farmers.

“Japan is the second-largest purchaser of U.S. corn and has been an important, longstanding trading partner with America’s corn farmers,” the statement said.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue also hailed the agreement, saying the United States can sell more to Japanese markets by “removing existing barriers for our products.”

“At the same time we will be able to close gaps to better allow us to compete on a level playing field with our competitors,” he said in a news release issued Sunday.