Japan-US discord throws wrench in trade talks

Japan-US discord throws wrench in trade talks
Cabinet Office Senior Vice Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, second from left, talks at a press conference as U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, second from right, listens after the TPP ministerial meeting in Singapore.

SINGAPORE - The deadline for an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks was missed, but US Trade Representative Michael Froman was upbeat.

He described the four-day meeting in Singapore as "productive" and expressed satisfaction with the result of the talks on the proposed trade deal among 12 participating nations.

Froman's comments masked the fact that the ministerial talks failed to reach the initial goal of reaching a substantive agreement by the end of this year. Indeed, the participants were unable to even reach a partial accomplishment, and only agreed to meet again next month for more talks. The possibility of the talks stalling remains.

A key factor behind this outcome was the discord in negotiations between the United States and Japan. The United States stuck rigidly to its demand for a high level of free trade, without giving consideration to each nation's internal conditions. It did not compromise on any concession proposals until the end of the talks.

On Saturday, the first day of the talks, Froman approached Yasutoshi Nishimura, Cabinet Office senior vice minister and head of Japan's negotiation team, between the plenary meeting, and made requests that would benefit the US side.

During this unplanned discussion, Froman urged Nishimura again for the complete removal of tariffs.

The unwillingness for Washington to offer any compromise stems from the hard-line stance of the US Congress. The administration of President Barack Obama needs to acquire the president's trade promotion authority from Congress, with which the president can request Congress to approve trade agreements without any amendment.

If the agreements are not favourable to the United States, Congress may not agree to provide this authority.

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