Chief negotiators of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks closed their meeting in Ottawa, Canada, on Saturday, July 12, without reaching agreement on controversial sectors such as tariffs and intellectual properties. The ministerial meeting, which the 12 participating countries had initially aimed to hold during this summer, was put off.
Meanwhile, Japan and the United States are continuing negotiations on a bilateral basis, with Koya Nishikawa, head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s TPP committee, who is visiting Washington, scheduled to meet U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman on Tuesday, July 15. In the negotiations, the Japanese government must not make compromises regarding tariffs on key agricultural products, in line with the resolutions made by the LDP and the Diet.
Some progress was achieved in Ottawa, including the effective resolution of disputes in such fields as labor over which industrialized and emerging countries have been at odds. However, the chief negotiators had to shelve the debates in other controversial areas, which stand in the way of finalizing a basic agreement.
Japan’s chief negotiator Koji Tsuruoka told reporters after the meeting that there is considerable amount of work still left to do, indicating that the countries will continue working-level negotiations. Although the schedule for the ministerial meeting remains undecided, we should keep on watching the talks carefully, as this does not mean the member nations have given up on reaching agreement.
We have to bear in mind that the TPP negotiations are led by the U.S. and the schedule for the series of talks is largely influenced by the U.S. political conditions. Every move is taken with consideration for the U.S. midterm congressional elections on Nov. 4, which will determine how much control President Barack Obama’s administration can have over the Congress. Starting in August, the U.S. will enter a “political season” which will make it difficult for U.S. negotiators to make any compromises or moves that are disadvantageous to the country. The Ottawa meeting was the last chance for TPP negotiators to narrow the gaps among them, but they failed to go as far as setting a stage for a ministerial meeting.
The TPP scheme includes issues which have a big impact on Japan’s food security and Japanese people’s lives. In March 2013, when the government decided to join the TPP negotiations amid increasing concerns among the public, especially local people and farmers, the LDP adopted a resolution pledging to exempt tariffs on key agricultural products from negotiation or make them subject to renegotiations. In the following month, the agricultural committees of the Upper and Lower houses of the Diet adopted resolutions based on the LDP’s resolution. These resolutions and the government’s policy should be two sides of the same coin. It is a matter of fact for the government to continue sticking to the resolutions in future negotiations. We once more urge the Abe administration never to make any hasty political decisions which go against the resolutions just for the sake of reaching agreement.
We are deeply worried over the tariff negotiations conducted on a bilateral basis. Some sources familiar with the negotiations said considerable progress has been made in the tariff talks, which could give a deathblow to the domestic agricultural industry depending on the issue.
The TPP negotiations are based on the principle of zero tariffs. Some countries, which have been insisting on the principle of unilateral tariff elimination, are reportedly beginning to accept negotiations focusing on items which they want to expand Japan-bound exports. Such moves apparently reflect the progress said to have been made between Japan and the U.S. in April, based on a “formula” – a combination of different methods such as introduction of safeguard measures and various degrees and periods for tariff phaseouts.
The Japanese government must persistently keep the pledges made in the resolutions and protect the sensitive key agricultural products. Hiroshi Moriyama, a Lower House member and a member of the LDP’s TPP committee who is accompanying Nishikawa, said the government should “not panic, rush, or give up,” calling for patience and perseverance in negotiating. That is what the government needs to do.
(July 15, 2014)