World Economy

US, Japan Highlight Common Ground on Trade

US, Japan Highlight  Common Ground on TradeUS, Japan Highlight  Common Ground on Trade

Eager to build on the US-Japan alliance, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will work to strengthen economic ties further while confronting stiff resistance from the US president’s own political party to a massive new Pacific Rim trade deal.

Trade is one of the top agenda items for Abe’s state visit to the US as the two countries work toward a 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that would further open vast Asian and Pacific rim markets to US exports, AP reported.

Abe’s visit comes as Obama’s negotiators work to complete the trade agreement, and as Obama seeks authority from Congress to put the deal, once completed, on a fast track to approval later this year. Obama is pressing for the trade agreement and the negotiating authority against mounting pressure from liberals and labor unions who fear trade agreements can cost American jobs.

The US and Japan are the agreement’s biggest participants and the talks between the two countries would go far in advancing the broader negotiations. But while Obama and Abe won’t be ready to announce a trade breakthrough, officials on both sides say they will likely declare they have made considerable progress in closing remaining gaps. The toughest sticking points are US tariffs on Japanese pickup trucks and barriers in Japan on certain US agricultural products.

  Defense Guidelines

On Monday, Japanese and US foreign and defense ministers meeting in New York approved revisions to the US-Japan defense guidelines. The new rules boost Japan’s military capability amid growing Chinese assertiveness in disputed areas in the East and South China Sea claimed by Beijing. The changes, which strengthen Japan’s role in missile defense, mine sweeping and ship inspections, are the first revisions in 18 years to the rules that govern US-Japan defense cooperation.

Indeed, China’s economic and military footprint serves as a major backdrop for Abe’s visit.

Obama has undertaken an effort to rebalance the US role in Asia and has argued time and again that without a trade agreement with Asian countries, China will step into the breach.

“If we don’t write the rules, China will write the rules out in that region,” Obama said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “We will be shut out — American businesses, American agriculture. That will mean a loss of US jobs.”

Republican supporters of the trade deal were applying pressure on Abe. In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan urged Abe to stand up to the Japanese farms and auto lobbies in favor of more open trade.

Nothing seemed to underscore the reconciliation between the countries more than the agreement to boost the US-Japan defense relationship, which would allow Japan to play a bigger role in global military operations with an eye on potential threats from China and North Korea.

  No Progress Seen

Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari played down the prospect of substantial progress in trade talks being announced after a summit meeting between Japan and the United States on Tuesday, Reuters said.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK said a joint statement after the meeting would probably refer to “substantial progress” in negotiations between the two countries on a trade deal and would talk of them cooperating to move towards an agreement on the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact

However, Amari told a news conference: “The most we could expect in a joint statement is to say there is ‘welcome progress’ (on a Japan-U.S. trade deal).”

Amari said progress had been made on some aspects of the trade talks between the two countries but other aspects were “deadlocked” and he expected the two leaders to instruct officials to make efforts towards an early agreement.