Japan, US Try to Reach Free Trade Pact 04/22 06:12
Japanese and U.S. negotiators are struggling to reach a preliminary
agreement on a free trade pact that might have served as a centerpiece for
President Barack Obama's visit to Tokyo this week.
TOKYO (AP) -- Japanese and U.S. negotiators are struggling to reach a
preliminary agreement on a free trade pact that might have served as a
centerpiece for President Barack Obama's visit to Tokyo this week.
Japan's economy minister Akira Amari told reporters Tuesday that the two
sides remained "at a considerable distance" over trade in farm products and
vehicles a day before Obama arrives.
"Depending on the rate of progress we may naturally close the gap," Amari
said. The two sides would continue talks ahead of Obama's summit on Thursday
with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he said.
A Japan-U.S. agreement is seen as crucial for progress on a wider deal for
the 12 nations involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Each country must
strike a deal with other prospective members to conclude the pact.
The TPP sets trade rules and is seen as a precursor to a future wide
free-trade arrangement for the entire Pacific Rim region.
The major sticking points between Japan and the U.S. have to do with
removing tariffs on agricultural products such as rice, beef, dairy products
and sugar that Japan has long protected from foreign competition, Japanese
Automobiles are another hurdle. Japanese carmakers exported 4,731 vehicles
per day to the U.S. last year, while Japan imported less than 62 per day.
Auto-related trade accounted for nearly three-quarters of the 6.1 trillion yen
($59.5 billion) U.S. trade deficit with Japan in the fiscal year that ended on
March 31, according to Japanese data.
Citing unnamed sources, Kyodo News service reported said the U.S. was asking
Japan to set a minimum level for American automobile imports. Japan wants the
U.S. to ease tariffs on imports of pickup trucks.
A group of Republican lawmakers visiting Tokyo this week met with Japanese
officials to show their support for a deal.
"I'm pleased to hear that our negotiators along with theirs are making
progress and all of us would say that resolution of that agreement would mean
real job growth, real economic prosperity not only for you here in this region
but for us in the United States," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia
In Japan and elsewhere, there are concerns over making politically difficult
market-opening concessions without reassurance that Obama will have the "fast
track" authority to get congressional approval for TPP. Critics of the plan
have balked at granting such power for a trade deal whose contents have been
kept largely secret as a precondition for joining.
Even if Obama and Abe sign off on some form of agreement in Tokyo, many
other issues remain to be resolved, said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from
Connecticut who has lobbied others in her party to oppose so-called "Trade
Promotion Authority" for Obama.
"As the conventional wisdom goes, if Japan and the United States can sort
out market access issues, agriculture, automobiles, then this massive trade
deal can at last be concluded," DeLauro said in a conference call last week.
"This is not really the case."