Vilsack: Japan must open agricultural sector to remain part of TPP talks

A massive Asia-Pacific trade deal may need to move on without Japan’s participation if market-access issues aren’t solved, a top Obama administration official said Monday.

Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackThomas James VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE said Japan must open its agricultural sector to U.S. and other imports or face being pushed out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

"It is incumbent upon us to have market access, and if the Japanese are unwilling and unable to provide that market access, then the other alternative is that you have a less comprehensive agreement in which the Japanese are not part,” Vilsack told reporters and editors at Bloomberg Government on Monday.

However, Vilsack said Japan’s participation is vital to the TPP and negotiators should keep working toward solutions.

Vilsack said U.S. trade officials are intent on keeping Japan in the talks, which intensified in recent months ahead of a meeting last week between President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael B.G. FromanUS will investigate aluminum imports as national security hazard Overnight Finance: WH floats Mexican import tax | Exporters move to back GOP tax proposal | Dems rip Trump adviser's Goldman Sachs payout Froman heads to Council on Foreign Relations MORE recently told lawmakers that Japan is in the talks to stay and that the two countries' negotiators will continue their discussions on market access issues with a focus on opening the agriculture and auto markets.

U.S. and Japanese trade officials are still in search of a final bilateral agreement that they expect would lead to an acceleration in the completion of the overall deal.

There have been reports that they are getting closer to a resolution in those areas.

Vilsack said “it will be very difficult for this agreement — and frankly it should be difficult for this agreement — to get the approval of Congress” without the elimination of access barriers across the agricultural sector, which includes rice and pork.

But he also said that he couldn’t comment on the U.S. negotiating position because he’s not involved in the discussions.

He suggested that Congress should move forward on trade promotion authority (TPA), giving the 10 other nations besides the U.S. and Japan the confidence that the deal they sign won’t change once it reaches Capitol Hill.

Although a bill was introduced in January, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is still talking to lawmakers about the best way to proceed.

Many congressional Democrats oppose the legislation, arguing that it will force them to vote on a deal that leads to job losses and lower wages for U.S. workers.