Senate Democrats express opposition to Japan joining trade talks

In the letter, the senators argue that Japan has too many barriers in place to U.S. automakers to make them worthy of an invitation.

"The United States has attempted to address this imbalance in past trade negotiations, but it has been unsuccessful," they wrote. 

"Japan has previously made concessions, including the elimination of tariffs on automobile imports. However, new barriers to trade have arisen to replace the old," the senators wrote. "We are particularly worried about the impact that Japan's inclusion will have on American carmakers and their workers."

They say that Japan has made concessions, including the elimination of auto tariffs, but then has followed up by putting other hurdles in their place. 

U.S. automakers, especially Ford, have expressed concern about Japan getting a seat at the TPP discussions, arguing that the nation isn't a free trader and locks out foreign competition. 

In 2011, the trade deficit with Japan was $63 billion, 70 percent was because of autos. Foreign automakers account for 5 percent of auto sales in Japan, compared with 55 percent of sales for foreign automakers in the United States, they said. 

"The history of U.S.-Japanese trade relations gives us little confidence that American negotiators can achieve an agreement that would create a truly level playing field between the two countries in the short timeframe of TPP negotiations," they wrote in the letter released Thursday. 

"We believe it would be a mistake to invite Japan to join TPP at this time."

The letter was signed by Michigan Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabeow, along with New York's Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and and Rhode Island's Sheldon Whitehouse.

The 13th round of negotiations between the 11 nations — the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam — begins Sept. 6 in Leesburg, Va.