TPP Talks: Japan and the US, Show Your Willingness for Agreement

A crackling passion of brinkmanship undeniably accompanies most trade talks. In some cases, however, the timing for reaching an ultimate compromise fails to synchronize for both parties. It’s a veritable shame that the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) talks between Japan and the U.S. have met this very sad fate.

Akira Amari, the minister of state for economic and fiscal policy, attended what he had decided was to be a final negotiation with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman. But the U.S. remained adamant. Contrary to Froman’s position, though, Japan had already run out of patience, presenting what it confidently believed to be an offer of utmost compromise; Japan has, after all, turned out to be more stubborn.

The Obama administration faces midterm elections in November. Undoubtedly, Froman does not want to be seen as a pushover vis-à-vis Japan, for fear of inviting any stentorian censure from Congress and the auto and cattle industries, famously hostile to Japan. Hence the question: When will we ever see the aforementioned moment of ultimate compromise?

There is no cast-iron deadline for the TPP. But President Obama announced his intention to at least outline its contours by November, when the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) will convene in Beijing. But it is arbitrary; the rest of the countries in the talks are just acting in deference to U.S. policy.

We must be careful not to let this historical factoid ever lapse into the murkiness of memory: The Doha Round of the World Trade Organization has not yet crossed the finish line, and it has been 13 years.

As the November deadline (even if arbitrarily set) approaches, it depends upon the action of Japan and the U.S. as to whether the rest will be goaded into accepting the treaty. With the abrupt intermission of high-level talks between those two countries, a sense of disappointment could soon ripple widely.

Japan and the U.S. alone account for 80 percent, or thereabouts, of the total economic activity in the TPP zone. What a shame that the impetus for agreement might dissipate due to the tactlessness of these two supposed economic power engines. Their responsibility weighs all the more heavily upon their shoulders, there being no determined deadline in view. This responsibility they should always bear in mind.

But without a willingness to reach agreement and mutual trust in the negotiations themselves, the whole spectacle could wind up looking farcical at best. While it remains inconclusive for now, we are almost there. Now it’s time to look outward with a view to sending the right message.

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