World Economy

Trans-Pacific Partnership Talks at Stalemate

Trans-Pacific Partnership  Talks at StalemateTrans-Pacific Partnership  Talks at Stalemate

Negotiations for joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade zone broke down in late September, possibly irrevocably, after the Japanese negotiator, Minister of Economy Akira Amari, walked out of the meeting with the Americans.

That will likely doom the regional free-trade agreement, which has been in negotiation between around a dozen Asia-Pacific nations since 2005. Both parties said a lack of faith by the other had led to the breakdown, World Bulletin reported.

Japan claims that Washington had reneged on a promise to reduce tariffs on imported automobile parts; while the Americans pointed to agricultural protection -- the poison pill of many other free trade negotiations with Japan.

It seems unlikely that the negotiations will resume anytime soon unless the leaders of both countries -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Barack Obama -- take a personal interest to jump start them, but there are no such signs on either side of the Pacific.

Obama’s address to the opening of the United Nations General Assembly last month made no reference to the trade pact. For his part, Abe also made no mention of the trade pact in his speech to the opening of the session of Japan’s parliament.

According to an Anadolu Agency correspondent in Japan, Abe is in a conservative mode these days -- conservative in the sense of not wanting to rock the boat. The government’s approval ratings took a dive after the cabinet approved July 1 a re-interpretation of the country’s pacifistic constitution to provide for greater military cooperation with allies.

He is not likely to want to alienate any more constituencies during the coming session, and this especially means not alienating the powerful farm lobby by making any serious reductions in tariff barriers for five “sacred cow” agricultural products: beef, pork, rice, wheat, and dairy products.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a trade agreement encompassing 12 Asian and Pacific nations -- Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam and the United States -- that is said to be the most far-reaching and comprehensive free-trade agreement ever negotiated.

Japan came late to the negotiations but is considered pivotal to its success.

The election calendar is beginning to dominate the agenda in both Japan and the US. Abe is concerned about several upcoming gubernatorial races, including in the sensitive Fukushima prefecture and Okinawa, and beyond that to the municipal elections in the spring.

Obama worries that, for now, trade liberalization in the crucial automobile industry, might lose his party union support in the run-up to the mid-term Congressional elections next month.

Even if revived, it looks increasingly as if the Trans-Pacific Trade partnership will go the way of the Doha round of trade negotiations with talks going on forever and nothing really accomplished.