The Yomiuri Shimbun February 27, 2014
Japan, U.S. should cooperate to stop TPP talks from drifting
Ministerial talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral economic partnership agreement once again failed to reach a basic agreement, mainly due to a confrontation between Japan and the United States.
The TPP negotiations should not be left drifting. Japan and the United States, the countries responsible for leading the negotiations, must swiftly put the talks onto a desirable track.
It was a fresh start from the previous talks in December, but the negotiations have broken down for the second time. No schedule has been officially set for the next meeting. This result is utterly disappointing.
The latest TPP ministerial talks held in Singapore, in which 12 countries including Japan, the United States and Australia participated, have ended.
The aim of the TPP is to create new free trade rules in the Asia-Pacific region to lead the world with an economic partnership framework for the 21st century. However, if the negotiations were to lose momentum, it would be difficult to break the state of deadlock.
The main reason that the participating ministers have given up on reaching a basic agreement was a confrontation between Japan and the United States over the elimination of tariffs.
Regarding the Liberal Democratic Party’s insistence that five sensitive agricultural categories, including rice, wheat and barley, be exempted as sanctuary items, the United States has maintained its hard-line stance, persistently seeking tariff cuts on them. Japan sought a point of compromise on the five categories by suggesting the possibility of lowering tariffs on beef and pork to sound out the U.S. reaction. However, the abyss between the two countries on the issue was so deep that they could not find any point of compromise.
On the issue of tariffs on automobiles and auto parts, which Japan demanded that the United States remove, the two countries could not solve their confrontation.
It will be difficult to find a way out of the deadlock in the TPP talks if Japan and the United States, two economic giants, only stick to their negotiation principles and do not show flexibility. The two countries should reflect on their attitudes, which have lacked broader perspective.
Reshaping the talks
Australia and emerging countries such as Malaysia, which have closely watched the Japan-U.S. negotiations, have also become passive in the TPP talks. Broad differences were also seen between the claims of the United States and emerging nations as well. Japan and the United States should feel a serious sense of responsibility for holding up the overall TPP talks.
The focus from now on is how to put the talks onto a desirable course.
The 12 countries are expected to have the next meeting when the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum holds a meeting of trade ministers in Qingdao, China, in May.
Another important factor for breaking the deadlock of the TPP talks is a Japan-U.S. summit meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama, who will visit Japan in late April. It is inevitable that the TPP should become a main discussion agenda for their talks.
In the United States, the protectionist pressure has been increasing with midterm elections of the U.S. Congress scheduled for November. For this reason, we are concerned about how the U.S. side’s difficulty with compromising in the talks will play out.
Obama has maintained that concluding the TPP agreement is the top priority issue for employment and export expansion. We hope he exercises his leadership in domestic coordination and efforts to make progress in the TPP negotiations.
The attitude of Abe, who made the TPP a pillar of his growth strategy, will be put to a test. Abe must stand at the helm in finding a point of agreement with the United States, while reinforcing the competitiveness of Japan’s agricultural sector ahead of market liberalization.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 27, 2014)