Japan: The two nations will cooperate to aceelerate the discussions

May 2, 2014
by WLJ

— U.S.-Japan talks on ag tariffs fail to reach agreement

A lot of talk, but still no dice in Japan.

Following last week’s coverage of the U.S.-Japan trade talks, additional, last minute negotiations were still ongoing. Despite the best hopes however, they too came to nothing tangible.

Information is still hard to come by on agricultural trade details with Japan. U.S. official sources have been strangely mum on the whole affair, releasing only scant “information” with relatively little actual information involved. As with last week, the majority of the information on the talks’ outcomes came from Japanese rather than U.S. sources.

“No final solution was settled in any of those categories,” Akira Amari, Japanese Trade Minister in charge of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks, told Japanese paper the Asahi Shimbun regarding tariffs on five key agricultural commodities, beef being among them. “While the distance between the two sides overall was narrowed, we were unable to reach an agreement in principle.”

Amari echoed the tone of the joint statement released by both governments saying, “The two nations will cooperate to accelerate the discussions with the other nations participating in the TPP.”

“In order to further enhance economic growth, expand regional trade and investment, and strengthen the rules-based trading system, the United States and Japan are committed to taking the bold steps necessary to complete a high standard, ambitious, comprehensive TPP agreement,” read the joint statement, released Friday, April 25.

“Today, we have identified a path forward on important bilateral TPP issues. This marks a key milestone in the TPP negotiations and will inject fresh momentum into the broader talks. We now call upon all TPP partners to move as soon as possible to take the necessary steps to conclude the agreement. Even with this step forward, there is still much work to be done to conclude TPP.”

No tangible definition of what this “path forward” entails was offered in the lengthy statement. Much was said about cooperation and ongoing discussions, but nothing more solid. No additional mention of an earlier rumor of “9 percent or more” tariffs on beef being discussed was found.

Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack told Bloomberg that if Japan remains intransigent on tariffs on agricultural trade, TPP talks may have to go on without them.

“It is incumbent upon us to have market access, and if the Japanese are unwilling and unable to provide that market access, then the other alternative is that you have a less comprehensive agreement in which the Japanese are not part.”

He went on to say that is not a desirable outcome and not one the U.S. is seeking, but declined to comment further on the topic. Earlier questions posed to the U.S. Office of the Trade Representative by WLJ have still gone unanswered.

A matter of clout

Japanese Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters that Tokyo and Washington failed to reach a TPP agreement because President Barack Obama doesn’t have enough political clout at home to make substantial concessions on trade to Japan, at least until after U.S. midterm elections in November.

“Obama doesn’t have the clout to form (a national) consensus (on trade) in his country,” Aso said, The Japan Times reported.

“Even if Obama and Amari reach (TPP) agreements, you can’t say they will be certainly approved by the Congress. ... So it’s only natural they agreed to continue talks,” Aso said, The Japan Times reported.

Congress has not given Obama trade promotion authority empowering him to promote trade talks without legislative approval. This lack of fast-track authority has impeded Obama’s capacity to make a deal with Japan on trade, The Japan Times reported.

One reason the U.S. is attempting to put the TPP initiative on track is to prod China’s state-controlled economy into a market economy. If the TPP becomes a standard for the Asian economy, China will not be able to ignore it, the Mainichi Shimbun reported.

Japanese media made much ado about Obama, upon his arrival in Tokyo on April 23, having a $300-aperson supper at Sushibayashi Jiro, the most re nowned sushi restaurant in the country.

In a telephone interview, Kurt Campbell, former Assistant Secretary of State under the first Obama administration, told the Yomiuri Shimbun the elbow-toelbow counter meal undeniably helped the two leaders know each other better and establish greater trust and confidence between them.


When he visited Japan in 2009, Obama requested a meal of Kobe beef, renowned for its flavor, tenderness and fatty, well-marbled texture. But beef was off the menu this time, perhaps a reflection that beef tariffs were part of the TPP negotiations. — WLJ, with contributions from Richard Smith, DTN Tokyo Correspondent