Japan joins U.S. in push for broad Pacific trade pact

Japan joins U.S. in push for broad Pacific trade pact

April 12–The Obama administration on Friday officially welcomed Japan to the negotiating table of what officials hope will be the largest trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region.

The United States joined negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in 2008, but Japan has been noticeably absent from the discussions that have been taking place in its backyard. The addition of the world’s third largest economy, behind the U.S. and China, is expected to give the deal greater significance.

Experts say a TPP agreement could boost American exports and jobs. The multilateral trade agreement will focus on removing trade barriers between the Asia-Pacific region and the West, as well as non-tariff measures such as transparency, standards, government procurement, and competition policy.

“Since November 2011, the United States has been engaged in consultations with Japan focused on Japan’s readiness to meet the TPP’s high standards for liberalizing trade and investment,” Acting U.S. Trade Rep. Demetrios Marantis said in a statement.

“The United States and Japan have successfully completed these consultations by concluding a robust package of actions and agreements with Japan in the automotive and insurance sectors, as well as other non-tariff measures. As a result, we are pleased to welcome Japan’s participation in the TPP negotiations pending a consensus agreement among the current TPP members and the completion of our respective domestic processes. Japan’s entry into this important initiative for the Asia-Pacific region will help it to deliver significant economic benefits to the United States, Japan and the Asia-Pacific region,” he added.

The U.S. is hoping to complete negotiations by the end of the year, and officials expressed hope that Japan’s late entrance won’t slow negotiations.

“As two of the largest and most advanced economies in the region, Japan and the United States will work together to further enhance economic growth, expand bilateral trade and strengthen the rule of law,” Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a statement.

The TPP does not include China, now the world’s second biggest economy and the country with the largest trade surplus with the United States. Some Chinese press outlets have expressed alarm that the pact is intended to contain China’s own economic rise and its trading prospects in the region.

In the U.S., business groups and congressional Republicans both cheered the addition of Japan to TPP negotiations.

“Japan is a vital U.S. trading partner and strategic ally, and its participation should greatly expand the TPP’s potential benefits,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue said in a statement. “We are pleased that Japan has agreed to put all issues on the table in the negotiations and work hard to ensure its late entrance does not unduly delay the negotiations.”

Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican and ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, which overseas such trade agreements, said he is a “strong advocate” of the addition of Japan to TPP negotiations, because it will “hold great potential for expanding job and economic growth” in the U.S.

“Japanese investment in Tennessee has created good-paying jobs and growth for a long time, so tearing down barriers to further trade and foreign investment is key to strengthening our economy for the future,” he said in a statement.

But not everyone is happy. some U.S. manufacturers have expressed fears a broad deal with lower-cost Asian economies could cut into their profits and cost jobs for their workers, while leaving longstanding barriers to U.S. goods in place.

“Including Japan in the TPP without ironclad assurances that it will open its markets and stop manipulating its currency is incredibly irresponsible,” said Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul in a statement.

“You can add this to the list of threats that stand in the way of a true American manufacturing resurgence,” he added. “What makes matters worse is that this would be a self-inflicted wound.”

And House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, Michigan Republican, said he worried that adding Japan to the talks could slow down progress toward a deal.

“I will not support Japan’s entry into TPP unless we obtain airtight assurances that Japan’s participation in the TPP negotiations will neither diminish the comprehensive and ambitious nature of these negotiations nor delay the goal of concluding the negotiations this year,” Mr. Camp said in a statement.

Ten other countries are also negotiating the regional TPP pact, including Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Canada and Mexico both joined negotiations last fall, giving the West more pull in the talks.

The countries just completed the 16th round of negotiations in March with the next meetings coming in May.

TPP is a spin-off of the 2005 Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement between Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore.