Sat, Apr 18, 2015 - Page 15 News List

Japan, US seek free-trade deal ahead of summit

Reuters, TOKYO

Japan yesterday sought to hold bilateral ministerial trade talks with the US as the allies race to seal a bilateral trade deal, seen as crucial for a broader trans-Pacific free-trade pact, ahead of a summit later this month.

The success of Japanese Minister of State for Economic Revitalization Akira Amari’s formal talks with US Trade Representative Michael Froman depend on the progress of working-level meetings aimed at narrowing gaps over the agricultural and auto sectors.

Amari’s comments followed the submission of a bill to the US Congress that would give US President Barack Obama the authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact. Passage of the bill, which Japan sees as crucial for success in the TPP talks, is far from assured.

“You can say that we have just cleared one obstacle to TPP negotiations,” Amari yesterday said in Tokyo.

“Japan is holding working-level talks with the US today. Depending on how those go, I want to decide today whether or not we can proceed to more formal minister-level talks,” Amari said, adding that a timeframe for his decision has not been set.

Obama’s administration announced in late 2009 that it was entering TPP negotiations with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Froman has called the TPP the “cornerstone” of Obama’s Asia-Pacific economic policy. It is also important to US manufacturers and farmers eager to increase already significant sales to the region by winning lower tariffs and other breaks.

“This is a smart, bipartisan compromise that will help move America forward,” US Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch said after leaders of Congress’ tax-writing committees reached agreement on the legislation, which is set to be introduced in the US Senate and US House of Representatives.

US labor unions that are active supporters of Democratic politicians fear the deal will favor big US corporations at the expense of US jobs and tougher foreign safety and environmental standards.

While trade associations and companies such as Intel Corp, Emerson Electric Co and Microsoft Corp welcomed the move, unions immediately announced a new advertising campaign to pressure lawmakers.

The US and Japan, the world’s biggest and third-biggest economies, account for about 80 percent of the economic output of the 12-member TPP, making them the pacesetters of the multilateral trade talks.

Japanese officials have said success in the TPP negotiations depends on whether the US Congress approves fast-track measures to ease passage of trade deals, also known as trade promotion authority.

Japan and other TPP nations have said fast-track authority would give trading partners certainty that agreements would not be picked apart.

Washington and Tokyo see strategic value to a broad TPP deal as forming a counterweight to China, which has not joined the group.

Japanese media outlets said the two countries were aiming for meetings between Amari and Froman tomorrow and on Monday, depending on the outcome of ongoing talks between Acting Deputy US Trade Representative Wendy Cutler and Japan’s deputy chief trade negotiator for the TPP talks Hiroshi Oe.

Neither Japan nor the US confirmed the report.

“There are still issues to be solved. We will do the utmost so that a parliament resolution [to protect five agricultural products] can be seen to be kept,” Japanese Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Yoshimasa Hayashi said. “Ministerial meetings could bring about good results only if working-level negotiations make enough progress.”

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