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A Good Moment for the TPP and Japan

As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan meets with President Obama today at the White House, this is the right moment for him to announce that his nation is ready to join the United States and 10 other countries in the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  Such a step would increase considerably the potential economic significance of an agreement and almost certainly ensure that, if negotiated and ratified, the TPP would be one of the great trade achievements of the 21st century.  

If Japan were to join TPP negotiations, it would be a game-changer.  Trade investment in Japan already supports a million U.S. jobs.  If Japan were part of what we all hope will be successful TPP talks, that economic cooperation will only grow stronger, with new jobs and new investments sure to follow on both sides of our Pacific pond.

We’re encouraged by some of the Prime Minister’s comments in Japanese media outlets ahead of this trip.  While the politics in Japan may be split over whether that country should formally enter the talks, Prime Minister Abe clearly has the TPP on his mind. 

“The TPP's significance will depend on whether Japan, which has the (world’s) third-largest gross domestic product, will join it,” Abe said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun on Feb. 20 ahead of his first visit to the United States since returning as prime minister in December.

There are some key market-access questions, ranging from rice to autos, which need to be addressed for both sides to be comfortable with Japan getting a seat at the TPP table.  But Abe, for his part, seems to be looking for creative solutions.

“I wonder if everything that has been put on the table for the TPP talks should remain on the table through the end,” Abe said.  “Washington may have second thoughts and decide to want to create exemptions as a result of the talks.”

“Through working-level negotiations alone, it remains difficult to override officially stated principles on exemptions.  Every country wants its own economy to thrive on free trade while preserving its own traditions.  So there ought to be exemptions.  I want to make that point clear during the summit.”

On this side of the Pacific, the Obama Administration also appears open to some creative thinking.  Briefing reporters ahead of today’s bilateral meetings, Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Mike Froman highlighted the long-standing partnerships between the two countries, and noted there has been almost a year of consultations between the two governments in an effort to resolve the issues that, to date, have prevented Japan from joining the TPP.  Has there been enough progress to bring Japan to the TPP table?  Froman says to stay tuned.

Japan is a very important economic partner in any number of forums, whether it's the G7, the G8, the G20, APEC.  We work very closely with Japan across a range of plurilateral, multilateral fora.  And this is an opportunity for the leaders to touch base and talk about how best to work together in this arena.

. . . .

TPP is intended to be a comprehensive, ambitious, high-standard, 21st-century trade agreement.  And the TPP leaders, back in November 2011, agreed to the outlines of an agreement where they all committed to that kind of outcome, an outcome where everything is on the table and subject to negotiation, and with a goal of a comprehensive agreement.  And that is the goal of TPP, and anybody who joins TPP would be expected to sign on to that goal as well.

To be sure, Abe has indicated he may wait to decide on whether Japan should join the TPP until after he returns to Tokyo from his Washington trip.  But we hope Prime Minister Abe and President Obama can work through the issues that have prevented Japan from joining the TPP talks so he can make that historic pivot once he returns home. 

The U.S. and the global economy stand to gain substantially from a strong regional free trade agreement that is economically significant, cross-cutting, and addresses 21st century trade and investment challenges.  By expanding the nations participating in the TPP, we open major avenues to strengthen the tech sector in the United States and around the world.  And we create significant opportunities across economic sectors worldwide.  That’s something all sides can agree needs to happen – and without delay.



  • Japan is the world’s third largest economy and the fourth largest trading partner for the United States.
  • If it were to join the TPP talks, Japan would be the second-largest country participating in the negotiations behind the United States, both in terms of population (128 million) and GDP ($5.9 trillion).
  • U.S. goods and services trade with Japan totaled $267 billion in 2011 (latest data available for goods and services trade combined). Exports totaled $113 billion; Imports totaled $154 billion.
  • U.S. goods exports to Japan in 2011 were $66.2 billion, up 9.4% ($5.7 billion) from 2010, and up 1.4% from 2000.

Sources:  USTR; Congressional Research Service


Public Policy Tags: Trade & Market Access
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