Hiroshi Isoda, associate professor at Kyushu University Graduate School
We have seen reports at home and abroad saying Japan presented a “proposal with flexibility” in the minister-level bilateral negotiations with the United States under the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks which ended Wednesday, Sept. 24. We cannot be sure of what the government exactly presented unless it is disclosed to the public, but if the situation is as reported, we must assume that the proposals indicate further compromises by the Japanese side, considering that Japan had taken the latest round of talks as the crucial point in the negotiations. Japan could have made concessions even more than the level agreed by Japan and Australia in their economic partnership agreement signed in April.
According to the statement issued by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative after the talks, both sides will consider next steps following consultations in both capitals. Although the two countries failed to make further progress in the latest talks, the U.S. will highly likely to urge Japan to make further compromises when the negotiations resume.
If Japan actually made a new proposal, it means that will become the new starting point for future negotiations. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has maintained that the Japan-Australia EPA should be the red line which cannot be crossed. The government and the ruling parties seem to be thinking that they can make any concessions as long as they avoid tariff eliminations. But the Diet has adopted a resolution to exempt tariffs of key agricultural items from negotiations or putting them aside for future re-negotiations.
Series of TPP negotiations were held in Singapore, Vietnam and Canada this year, but all of them were kept strictly confidential, with no briefings or public hearings held for citizens’ groups and stakeholders. The situation is stirring anxiety among Japanese people and farmers. The governments must broadly disclose the contents of negotiations.
Shinji Hattori, professor emeritus of Toyo University
In the latest round of ministerial talks, Japanese negotiators are said to have made a major concession in its proposals regarding controversial issues such as cutting tariffs on beef and pork together with setting conditions for triggering safeguards to prevent surge in imports. Akira Amari, minister in charge of TPP, indicated that Japan put forth some bold proposals, apparently in view of striking a deal when leaders gather for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November.
Even then, the negotiations failed to make any progress obviously out of U.S. negotiators’ consideration for their effects on midterm Congressional elections scheduled in November. Making compromises to Japan in agriculture and auto sectors would work disadvantageously for the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, which is hoping to gain strong political support for the election.
Stagnated Japan-U.S. negotiations are certain to cast a shadow over talks for a broader 12-country deal under the TPP scheme. But it is also difficult to think that the U.S., which is aiming to invigorate its economy using the scheme, would give up on reaching agreement. The two countries are sure to hold another ministerial meeting before the summit meeting in November. Once the elections are over, the U.S. can change its negotiating stance.
Japan must avoid reaching an agreement which could give a devastating impact on the domestic agriculture industry. Especially, the key issue will be how to set conditions for invoking safeguard restrictions to stop surge in beef imports. The U.S. wants Japan to set the minimum amount of imports for triggering safeguards to the level before the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the U.S., when Japan imported more beef. But it does not match with the current level of beef imports, and setting such a condition would lead to risks of a sharp increase in beef imports.
(Sept. 26, 2014)