Friday, November 11, 2011

Obama Administration Votes Present on Japan and the TPP

As had been rumored for about a week now, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced today that his country will formally seek to join the ongoing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which now includes the United States, current US FTA partners Australia, Chile, Peru, and Singapore, new FTA partners Brunei, Malaysia, New Zealand and Vietnam.  It's undeniable that Japan's membership in the TPP would provide immense economic benefits for US exporters and consumers and cement relations with one of the United States’ closest allies (and a country that could really use our help right now).  Japan's inclusion also would transform the relatively minor agreement into a serious platform for even greater trade and economic growth and an important counterweight to China’s growing influence in the region, thus giving the slow-moving TPP just the kick in the butt it needs to hasten completion.

Despite these economic and strategic benefits, Noda's decision didn't come easy: free trade faces serious political obstacles in Japan, particularly from domestic farm and other groups who have long opposed further liberalization initiatives.  So, given all of this, the United States responded to Noda's big, politically-risky announcement with excitement and encouragement, right?

Err, take it away, USTR Kirk:
The United States welcomes Prime Minister Noda’s important announcement expressing Japan’s intention to begin consultations with Trans-Pacific Partnership countries towards joining the TPP negotiations....  In close consultation with Congress and our domestic stakeholders, we look forward to engaging with the Japanese in these discussions. To join the negotiations, Japan must be prepared to meet the TPP's high standards for liberalizing trade and to address specific issues of concern to the United States regarding barriers to agriculture, services, and manufacturing trade, including non-tariff measures.  Japan’s interest in the TPP demonstrates the economic and strategic importance of this initiative to the region.
Translation: "Yeah, umm, thanks.  We'll be in touch."

Gee, I wonder what could be holding back the Obama administration from openly and warmly embracing one of the largest economies in the world and one of our biggest allies?

Oh, right.  That.

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