US-Japan struggle to bridge gaps on agricultural market access

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U.S. and Japanese negotiators finished three intensive days of talks in Tokyo last week without reaching any substantive agreement to resolve differences on automobile issues and access to agricultural products as part of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. At issue is the U.S. effort to secure concessions to liberalize access to Japan's declared sensitive products—rice, wheat, barley, beef, pork, dairy products and sugar.

Viewed as a comprehensive, 21st century agreement, a guiding principle of TPP is for member countries to eliminate all tariffs. While the United States has called on Japan to make more concessions, it has met continued resistance. Complicating the discussions, Japan and Australia (a TPP member country) announced this week they had concluded a bilateral trade agreement that partially lowered tariffs for Australian beef, some dairy products, but exempted rice from tariff reduction.

However, at the outset of the talks, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman stated that TPP aims for a higher level of trade liberalization than the Japan-Australia agreement and wants Japan to make greater efforts to eliminate tariffs on their sensitive agricultural products. This session of negotiations could be the last opportunity to advance talks ahead a summit between President Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on April 24-25 in Tokyo. Reaching a bilateral deal is seen as crucial to conclude the broader 12-country TPP negotiations later this year.

Adding to the pressure, a bipartisan draft letter to USTR and USDA is being circulated in the House of Representatives urging them not to make a TPP deal with Japan unless it eliminates tariff and non-tariff agricultural barriers, a position that has been taken by U.S. agricultural groups, including the U.S. Grains Council.


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