The US pressed Japan on Thursday to open its farm and auto markets to overseas competition and said Japan could not expect special treatment in a proposed Pacific trade pact covering one-third of global imports and exports.
US Trade Representative Michael Froman told US lawmakers that Japan’s reluctance to lower trade barriers was holding up agreement on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would stretch from Asia to Latin America.
Despite intense talks between the US and Japan, the two biggest economies in the negotiations, Japan has yet to come forward with an offer to close the gaps on trade in farm goods and vehicles.
“It’s time for Japan to step up to the plate,” Froman told the US Congressional House Ways and Means Committee during a three-hour hearing on the US trade policy agenda.
Washington’s frustration at the progress in formal talks on the TPP, a centerpiece of US President Barack Obama’s push to expand US presence in Asia, is growing as talks enter their fifth year.
Japan was the last to join in 2013. The move raised the stakes for all participants given the size of Japan’s economy, but some say it was premature, given Japan’s desire to protect its rice, wheat, beef, pork, dairy and sugar sectors.
Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Republican, said that Japan should be cut out of the talks if it is not ready to make the necessary commitments.
Froman said such a decision was up to Japan, but that one country could not refuse to negotiate on sensitive issues while others put up more ambitious offers.
“All the other countries are waiting for Japan to play its appropriate role in these negotiations, and once the market access piece falls into place, we expect to be able to resolve the other issues,” Froman said.
Obama is expected to press for an ambitious TPP deal with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a visit to Japan later this month, but US Trade Representative officials have played down expectations for a breakthrough.
Two rounds of US-Japan talks on agriculture and autos in the past week made little progress. Acting Deputy US Trade Representative Wendy Cutler is to visit Tokyo beginning on Monday for further negotiations before Obama’s visit. A further round of broad TPP negotiations is penciled in for May.
Japan’s deputy chief trade negotiator, Hiroshi Oe, said on Friday that the US also had to show some flexibility.
The US had hoped to complete the TPP, which includes Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Malaysia and others, by the end of last year, but the timetable has now slipped to some time this year.
Beside Japan’s unwillingness to broaden market access, Froman said, one of the biggest challenges was intellectual property protection for what are known as biologics — medicines made from a living organism or its products, and used in the prevention, diagnosis or treatment of cancer and other diseases.
The US is seeking 12 years of protection, but a consensus has not yet emerged, he said.
Some trade experts say the US negotiating position is weakened by opposition in Congress to granting the White House power to fast-track trade deals and put them to lawmakers for a yes-or-no vote, without amendment.