Senators call for Japan to eliminate tariffs

Senate lawmakers are calling on Japan to eliminate tariff and non-tariff trade barriers for U.S. agricultural products as part of the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade talks.

The TPP is a regional negotiation that includes the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, which account for nearly 40% of global gross domestic product. Lead negotiators met in Singapore to discuss outstanding issues, including Japan’s recalcitrance on market access.

In a letter sent to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, 17 senators, led by Michael Bennett (Colo.) and Charles Grassley (Iowa), asked for assurances that the TPP negotiations will not be concluded until Japan agrees to eliminate tariff and non-tariff trade barriers for agricultural products. In addition to Bennett and Grassley, signing the letter were Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.), Richard Burr (N.C.), John Cornyn (Texas), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Deb Fisher (Neb.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Jim Inhofe (Okla.), Mike Johanns (Neb.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Pat Roberts (Kan.), John Thune (S.D.) and Mark Udall (Colo.).

Japan is demanding special treatment for its agricultural sector, including exclusion from the agreement of certain “sensitive” products. The United States never has agreed to allow a trading partner to exempt as many tariff lines as Japan is requesting. It wants exemptions for 586 tariff lines, or 11% of its tariff schedule. In the 17 free trade agreements the United States has concluded this century, a total of 233 tariff lines have been exempted from having their tariffs go to zero.

The Asian nation is an important market for U.S. agriculture — the fourth largest — which shipped $12.1 billion of food and agricultural products to the island nation in 2013. The senators pointed out in their letter that, if Japan is allowed to claim exceptions for sensitive products, other TPP countries inevitably will demand the right to do the same. That, they said, would cost U.S. jobs and billions of dollars in future U.S. agricultural exports and would undermine the TPP and future trade talks, including the ongoing Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations between the United States and the European Union.

Talks to create a tariff-free trade zone ended without a deal after the United States and Japan could not agree on allowing easier access to each other’s markets. The stand-off over tariffs and other trade barriers between Washington and Tokyo has been holding up efforts to forge closer economic ties. TPP aims to tackle the high regulatory and tariff barriers hampering trade flow between the 12 countries.


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