WASHINGTON, May 21, 2014 – U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is putting a rosy glow on the latest negotiating session aimed at forging a free trade pact among a dozen Pacific Rim countries, but comments from Japan are darkening the picture.
Froman, in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, said the two-day ministerial negotiating session for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Singapore was “very productive” and had created a “remarkably positive attitude” for the talks going forward. The ministers, he said, “are very much focused on resolving outstanding issues.”
But a day earlier, Japan’s economy minister, Akira Amari, said that despite progress in negotiations with the U.S., his country had made clear it will not abolish tariffs on its five “sacred” agricultural sectors – rice, wheat, dairy, sugar, and beef and pork. Still, he said, Japan hopes to contribute to a meaningful agreement, according to various reports in Japanese media.
Froman said he has “heard a whole range of reports” on Japan’s position, adding, “all I can say is we made progress.” He said stakeholders, including U.S. beef and pork producers, can be assured that U.S. negotiators are focused on producing an agreement that includes improved market access with Japan.
The U.S. ambassador said there would be another meeting of chief negotiators in July, following a similar session last week in Ho Chi Minh City, and he said ministers would continue to meet bilaterally. But he would not speculate on when an agreement may be reached.
Negotiations for the TPP, which would cover about 40 percent of the world economy, have stalled with the U.S. and Japan at odds over issues including Japanese tariffs on agricultural imports and U.S. access to Japan’s auto market. The two countries have by far the biggest economies in the potential free trade zone, which could also include Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
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