End in Sight for U.S.-Japan TPP Talks On Agriculture Market Access, Oe Says

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By Len Bracken  

Aug. 5 — The conclusion of agriculture market access talks between the U.S. and Japan is in sight, Japan's Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Ambassador Hiroshi Oe said Aug. 5.

In remarks to reporters, Oe said that during two days of intensive, substantive negotiations, the areas where compromises are to be made have been clearly identified but that those compromises remain to be realized. Although “the fog has cleared and the summit is in view,” work remains to be done at the negotiator level before ministerial decisions must be made, he said.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), in a readout of the meeting that was made available Aug. 6, also said the participants “continued to make some progress in narrowing the gaps on treatment of a range of agricultural products.”

Safeguards on beef and pork imports, which would reimpose steeper tariffs in the event of an import surge, were under consideration along with other issues, Oe said.

Trade officials of both countries have indicated that other trade tools could be used for the pact, such as phasing in tariff reductions over many years. In addition to beef and pork, Japan's other “sensitive” products are rice, dairy, wheat and sugar.

Technical Work Continues

The next TPP sessions will be set in the near future and “technical experts” from both sides will continue to meet the week of Aug. 4, the USTR said in the readout of the meeting.

Various options for offers involving numerous tariff lines and tools are being prepared, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

Oe said no more meetings are planned for August but that the two sides are looking forward to meeting again soon thereafter, while coordinating the bilateral negotiations with planned meetings of the TPP chief negotiators.

Both sides have agreed not to set a deadline but hope to make considerable progress in coming months toward the shared goal of concluding the negotiations, Oe said.

Congressional Pressure

Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler and Chief Agricultural Negotiator Darci Vetter represented the U.S. in the talks. Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) Director General Makoto Osawa also participated.

In response to a question regarding a letter sent to the administration from 140 lawmakers expressing their concerns with Japan's agricultural market access offer, Oe said the U.S. officials emphasized this congressional pressure.

The Japanese negotiator said ever since the visit of President Barack Obama to Tokyo in October 2013, the two countries have remained committed to reaching a deal.

More Difficult Round

Oe said the Aug. 4-5 talks were more difficult than the previous round in July because both sides are now required to consider specific measures. He said the overall atmosphere of the talks was good, however, and that it is not unusual for negotiations to become more difficult as they near the final stages.

The other 10 TPP countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

To contact the reporter on this story: Len Bracken in Washington at lbracken@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at jashton@bna.com