Abe, Obama aligned on early Trans-Pacific Partnership accord

WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President Barack Obama welcomed "the significant progress" made in the bilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and expressed determination to realise an early conclusion of the talks.

Led by Japan and the United States, the creation of new trade rules in the Asia-Pacific region is reaching its final phase.

In the joint statement issued after the Tuesday summit, the two countries said, "As the two largest economies in TPP, we are working to finalize the most high-standard trade agreement ever negotiated."

They expressed their resolution to make progress, stating that, "TPP will drive economic growth and prosperity in both countries and throughout the Asia-Pacific region by ... reinforcing our work together."

A Japan-US agreement is important as a step toward a comprehensive conclusion in the TPP talks, as the two nations account for 80 per cent of economic activity across the 12 member countries.

Last spring, Japan compromised with the United States over trade in beef and pork, among the major five agricultural items, to largely cut tariffs on the two meats.

The main issues are being narrowed down to when US tariffs on auto parts (2.5 per cent for most products) should be abolished, and the amount by which Japan should increase its rice imports.

At a joint press conference after the summit, Abe said, "We've confirmed that we would work together for the early and successful conclusion of the [TPP] talks," while Obama said "I know that Prime Minister Abe, like me, is deeply committed to getting this done, and I'm confident we will ... [TPP] will be good for the workers of both our countries."

One key to concluding the TPP talks is whether the US Congress will grant Obama trade promotion authority (TPA).

With the authority, Obama would be able to request for Congress to approve the US government's trade agreements without forcing revisions.

Committees at the US House of Representatives and the Senate have given approval for the "fast-track" trade deal authority bill, with the issue to be discussed at plenary sessions of both houses.

Obama warned Monday, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, that China would write the trade rules in Asia if the United States fails to complete and enact a free-trade deal with Asian countries, stressing the importance of an early conclusion on the TPP pact.

How debates on the TPA bill progress is impossible to predict, but the opposition Republican Party - which holds a majority in Congress - have many pro-free trade members.

There is a view that the TPA law will be enacted in May at the earliest. In that case, the 12 TPP member countries are expected to have a ministerial meeting in late May to reach a broad agreement on the pact.

According to sources, Abe and Obama also confirmed their co-operation to deal with issues related to the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The appendix to the Japan-US joint statement referred to bilateral collaboration on energy, stipulating the two countries' common view that nuclear power generation is an important source of base load electricity that helps to cut greenhouse gas emissions.