Satomi Tamai – Washington
Japan and the United States ended the two-day ministerial negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks on Wednesday, Sept. 24, in Washington, failing to narrow the gaps on the automobile sector and tariffs on farm products.
Lack of progress by the two countries leading the talks, without any prospects or specific schedule set to resume the negotiations, clouds a goal set by President Barack Obama for the 12 participating countries to reach a broad agreement in November.
At the same time, farmers are worried as the Japanese government is considering some compromises regarding tariffs on agricultural products, including key sensitive items.
Japan “made a proposal with flexibility, but we were not able to make further progress,” Akira Amari, minister in charge of TPP talks, told reporters after Wednesday’s talks between him and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman ended in only an hour.
“I had hoped (the proposal) would lead (negotiations) to the next stage, but there was a gap in our discussions,” Amari said. He said in order to break the stalemate, negotiators of both sides should make compromises.
According to sources close to the negotiations, the talks were stalled as the U.S. suddenly pulled back its proposal to lift tariffs on Japan-made auto parts. The U.S. negotiators apparently did so to obtain support of the U.S. auto industry prior to the midterm Congressional elections scheduled in November.
The two sides also failed to resolve differences in the agriculture sector, such as tariffs on beef and pork and safeguard measures, as the U.S. maintained a hard line stance while Japan made more flexible proposals in view of the U.S. demands.
Amari said there are no schedules set for future Japan-U.S. bilateral talks, while indicating Japan will speed up negotiations with other TPP member nations with the goal of holding a ministerial meeting of the 12 countries, in an apparent move to push the U.S. to make compromises by accelerating talks with U.S.’ rival exporters of agricultural products to Japan.
However, Amari declined to comment on the possibility of the 12 nations striking a broad agreement by the year end. The nations are considering holding a ministerial meeting in October in order to close a deal when their leaders gather for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November in Beijing. But with the two largest economies in the TPP at loggerheads over controversial issues, only limited progress is expected in the negotiations as a whole.
Sources said Japanese negotiators proposed a concession to make a large cut in tariffs on beef and pork, provided that they can set looser conditions for triggering safeguard measures when imports surge. Amari said he urged the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries “in a daring way” so that Japan can make compromises “to the utmost limit.”
Although he declined to elaborate on what kind of concessions Japan has made, Amari said the U.S. “accepted the proposals to a certain degree,” meaning that the two nations could proceed with the talks based on the concessions which are largely disadvantageous to Japanese farmers.
(Sept. 26, 2014)