Froman: Time for Japan to 'step up to the plate' in trade talks

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said Thursday that all eyes are on Japan as negotiations move forward on a sweeping Asia-Pacific trade deal.

Froman said that Japan must put all sectors on the table and open its markets, especially agriculture and autos, if the 12 nations want to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

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“It’s time for Japan to step up to the plate," Froman told the House Ways and Means Committee during a trade hearing.

“Ultimately it’s Japan’s decision as it looks to its own future as to whether it's prepared to take the bold steps necessary to be part of this groundbreaking agreement," he said.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said that he won’t be able to support a TPP deal that doesn’t significantly open up Japanese markets to goods from the United States and other nations.

Camp, who hails from the home of the big three automakers, said “adequately addressing our bilateral auto issues with Japan is critical for my support.”

Japan’s position to limit or exclude a significant number of agricultural products is "significantly holding up progress on TPP" and "has become a serious impediment” to the talks, he said. 

Camp asked Froman whether he thought Japan could be left out of the TPP agreement if they fail to agree to the terms worked out between Washington and Tokyo prior to joining the talks last year.

Froman said the talks are too far along and that U.S. trade negotiators are remaining “very focused” on getting Japan to open their agricultural and auto markets.

The panel’s top Democrat Sandy Levin (Mich.) said that “much of the work remains to be done” in talks with Japan.

“This is the first one-on-one negotiation the U.S. has had with a country the size of Japan and it has the most closed market in the automotive sector of any country, surely, of its size. And the same is true of agriculture," he said. 

The United States and Japan are in parallel negotiations as part of the TPP talks and Froman said that the other 10 countries involved in the negotiations are eager for a breakthrough that will provide comprehensive access to its market and, in turn, push the deal across the long-awaited finish line.

"They are looking at Japan to make sure they provide comprehensive access to its market, on the cultural side and other parts of its market,” Froman said. 

"We’re reminding Japan what it and all TPP members agreed to when they joined TPP that this is intended to be a high-standard, ambitious comprehensive agreement."

Froman emphasized that "you can't have one country feeling entitled to take off the table and exclude vast areas of market access while the other countries are all putting on the table ambitious offers. Japan is not the only country that has sensitivities."

In response to those issues, Froman said the U.S. is being "plenty creative in trying to come up with ways to ensure comprehensive market access to Japan that addresses our sensitivities as well."

Froman said a deal with Japan could also help with talks with Canada on the agricultural front.

Still, there are other issues such as financial incentives and Japan's regulatory process. 

"We're making some progress but gaps still remain very much focused on trying to bridge those gaps," he said. 

Froman said the aim is to wrap up the deal this year and "we're working around the clock to get this done as soon as possible."

Besides the U.S., Japan and Canada, the TPP involves Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Mexico, Chile and Peru.