Japan must proceed with TPP talks without being chafed by U.S. intent
The current round of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations is the first in which Japan has taken full part. How will Japan demonstrate its presence to proceed with talks to its advantage? An aggressive stance is called for.
Japan and the 11 other countries that are participating in negotiations on the TPP free trade agreement, including the United States, Australia and Canada, kicked off two days of ministerial talks in Brunei on Thursday. A ministerial statement was scheduled to be announced Friday to confirm that the talks will be accelerated to conclude an agreement before the end of this year.
In line with this commitmment, working-level officials will hold negotiations by the end of the month.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, who chairs the ministerial talks, has said that reaching an agreement this year is a top priority for President Barack Obama. With a TPP accord as a leverage, Obama seeks to expand U.S. exports and boost job opportunities.
The United States probably wants to reconfirm with other countries the policy of concluding the talks this year during the current round of negotiations in Brunei and use it as momentum to reach a broad accord in October.
But if the talks proceed in line with the U.S. scenario, there are fears Japan will not be able to secure sufficient time for negotiations because the country was only able to take part in the TPP talks from the latter half of the previous round of talks.
Secure chances for assertions
It is necessary to avoid a situation in which Japan will be deprived of opportunities to present its case if the negotiations are cut off early in line with the schedule as planned by the United States. We urge Japan’s negotiators to hold talks separately with other TPP nations in an effort to increase the number of member nations that support Japan’s stance.
Prior to the Brunei round of talks, Japan worked out proposals on tariff abolition and presented them to other participating nations to sound out their responses.
The proposals called for abolishing tariffs on about 80 percent of trade items and left pending five categories of farming products, including rice, wheat and dairy products, that the Liberal Democratic Party wants handled as exceptions.
This was based on the fact that Japan’s degree of trade liberalization has been held to 84 percent to 88 percent in the economic partnership agreements it has concluded with 13 countries and territories. Rice and other items were exempted from free trade.
In the case of TPP talks, the government opted to set lower liberalization targets in the first place, possibly in preparation for bargaining that is expected to become tougher.
Froman has said that Washington is aiming for a more ambitious agreement, so the United States is likely to call on Japan to carry out greater liberalization and further market opening.
Each participating country has crucial fields that they want to protect with high tariffs, including sugar for the United States and dairy products for Canada.
For Japan, protecting all of the five farming product categories would not necessarily serve its national interests.
The government needs to expedite coordination of domestic opinions by focusing discussions on which fields Japan should concede and on which it should win concessions. Concerning the formation of rules on intellectual property rights and investment, Japan should actively present its assertions.
In conjunction with such efforts, the government must earnestly study measures to boost the competitiveness of the agricultural field, as well as to assist sectors that are expected to suffer as a result of opening their markets.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 23, 2013)