Japan's Abe urges support for trade pact in speech to Congress
Posted on May 1, 2015 11:17 am CDT
By Oren Dorell
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Congress on Wednesday that his country and the United States "should take the lead" in completing the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.
Abe, in his address, noted what he called the miracle of warm relations between the former war enemies of Japan and the U.S., and the task now is to contribute on economic cooperation.
The TPP trade pact nearing completion that both Abe and President Obama support faces opposition in the U.S. and Japan. Both leaders say it would boost exports and create jobs.
The pact is backed by the likes of Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee who believes it would open new markets among a billion new customers to American manufacturing and agriculture products, said spokesman Cole Karr.
There are many skeptics, however. In the United States, Democratic liberals and labor groups are skeptical. In Japan, the powerful farm lobby has long opposed trade concessions to the United States.
Consumer advocacy group Public Citizen criticizes TPP, saying it includes protections for corporations to move American jobs to low-wage countries, such as Vietnam, and will cause the U.S. trade deficit to balloon.
"The TPP is based on the 2012 U.S.-Korea free trade agreement," the group said in a statement. "Instead of the 'more exports, more jobs' we were promised, our goods trade deficit with Korea has ballooned more than 80%."
The Japanese leader, in comments aimed at China, said that while the U.S. and Japan should work together for prosperity through free trade in Asia, they should build a fair and dynamic market that "is also free from the arbitrary intentions of any nation."
Across the broader Pacific region, "We cannot overlook sweat shops or burdens on the environment," Abe said. "Nor can we allow free riders on intellectual property."
"This is exactly what the TPP is all about," Abe told the joint meeting of Congress. The trade agreement would help ensure the security of an area that accounts for 40% of the world economy, and one-third of global trade, he added.
Abe also said Japan is taking steps to strengthen its economy and to reform its agricultural market, which only opened to foreign products 20 years ago, something Abe acknowledged he opposed at the time.
With Japanese agriculture in decline and the average age of its farmers at 66, "Japan's agriculture is at a crossroads," Abe said. "In order for it survive, it has to change now."
Japan is bringing sweeping reforms to its agricultural cooperatives, which haven't changed in 60 years, he said.
"Japan will not run away from any reforms," he said.
Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said Abe's comments signaled a possible opportunity in Japan for American farmers.
"The Trans-Pacific Partnership presents a historic opportunity to strengthen the economic ties between our two countries. Expanded market access is especially important for U.S. commodities like rice," Conaway said. "I commend Prime Minister Abe for reaffirming that Japan will not shy away from needed agricultural reforms."
Rep. Sandy Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, was skeptical of the trade deal because he heard no specifics on whether U.S. farmers and automakers would gain access to the Japanese market.
Abe's speech lacked "any clear indication about the status of the negotiations to open Japan's long-closed agriculture and automotive markets," Levin said.