US, Japan express optimism to finish Asia-Pacific trade deal this year

Vice President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed Tuesday that their two nations need to move forward this year toward completing an Asia-Pacific trade deal.

While each leader acknowledged the difficulty in melding priorities for the 12 nations involved in negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), they expressed optimism in finding solutions and reaching an agreement as scheduled by year's end. 

"To state the obvious, for the countries involved, the decisions and the compromises that need to be made are very sensitive and very difficult," Biden said during a press conference in Tokyo.

"The upsides of getting such an agreement done are almost beyond comprehension. They're incredibly positive for all countries involved."

The United States and Japan also are conducting parallel negotiations, which will be included in a final TPP deal, which are designed to provide greater market access to U.S. exports.

"But the reward does not diminish the realization of how difficult the compromises needed to be made are," Biden said.

"We need a comprehensive agreement that involves longstanding differences between the United States and Japan, including issues like agriculture and automobiles. And it’s difficult."

Negotiators of the TPP — Vietnam, Mexico, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile and Peru — have said they are aiming to complete a deal by year's end.

A final TPP agreement will create higher standards for labor, the environment and intellectual property protection, Biden said.

"We need to establish new economic rules of the road that allow our countries to prosper together."

Abe expressed optimism about completing the deal this year despite the complexity of the negotiations saying "that Japan and the United States need to solve major pending issues through cooperation, and then should show a path toward conclusion of negotiation within this year."

Biden and Abe picked up where they left off from their talks in Singapore this summer, which included discussions about a broad range such as trade.

Abe is trying to kick-start Japan's economic growth after years of stagnation and is trying to sell his country on opening up their markets as an avenue to growth. 

"First and foremost, Vice President Biden and I confirmed that the United States and Japan alliance will continue to play a pivotal role for peace and stability of this region," Abe said.

 

 

Biden reiterated that the "United States looks to our alliance with Japan as the cornerstone of stability and security in East Asia, and we are fully committed to our announced strategy of rebalancing as well in the Pacific."

Some congressional Democrats, especially House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sandy Levin (Mich.), have expressed concerns about Japan's ability to meet the standards set out in any trade deal or follow through with providing the United States with more market access after decades of trying to open them to more foreign products.

A senior Obama administration official said Tuesday that the "U.S.-Japan alliance, we believe, is at a high-water mark across the board, and really has never been in a stronger place".

The TPP "will obviously be a crucial component of his discussions with the prime minister, as it was here with members of the Diet, as we try to bring to a conclusion a high-standard trade agreement that encompasses 40 percent of the world’s GDP."

Ahead of the day's meetings, Biden was briefed by the TPP negotiating team that is on the ground in Japan, led by Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler.  

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman also stopped in Japan this week as part of another Pacific Rim tour ahead of the next round of TPP talks, which start Saturday in Singapore.

"Vice President is not here to negotiate, but he is here to drive a message at the political level about the importance of getting this thing done and getting it done right in a way that works for U.S. businesses and workers and also works for Japanese businesses and workers and all of our TPP partners."