News Column

US-Japan Free Trade Talks Raise Concerns

February 26, 2013

Isaac Cohen -- HispanicBusiness

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (TTTNIS, Creative Commons)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (TTTNIS, Creative Commons)

Conversations between the new Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and President Obama were held last week in Washington, D.C. Most of the agenda was focused on strengthening the alliance between the U.S. and Japan, particularly in the security area.

Additionally, Abe expressed interest in joining the ongoing negotiations to set up a free trade area known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The inclusion of Japan, as the world's third-largest economy, would enhance the significance of these trade negotiations, held since March 2010 -- originally between eight governments and the U.S.

Thus far, 15 negotiating rounds have been held between delegations of Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S. and Vietnam. Delegates from Canada and Mexico joined the negotiations for the first time in December.

Given the extent and scope of trade relations between Japan and the U.S., both governments confront domestic resistance to trade liberalization among different sectors. At the conclusion of Abe's visit to Washington, a statement was issued that no unilateral tariff elimination is required to join the Trans-Pacific negotiations. The statement was understood as directed to placate some of the concerns about trade negotiations among Japanese farmers.

In the U.S., the inclusion of Japan in the negotiations raises concerns among supporters of the Democratic Party, such as the powerful trade union federations, particularly in the automobile industry.

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Isaac Cohen is an international analyst and consultant, a commentator on economic and financial issues for CNN en Espaņol TV and radio, and a former director, UNECLAC Washington Office.


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