Japan's Parliament To Take Up Trade Deal With U.S., But No One Knows What's In It

Oct 3, 2019

Japan’s Parliament is convening this month and will likely take up a new trade deal with the United States. If enacted, the agreement might bring some good news to farmers, but no one really knows. 

Official language of the deal has not yet been made public, though the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said it would increase access to the Japanese market for U.S. wheat, pork, and beef.

President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reached the tentative deal — with much fanfare — on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly last month. 

Yet Jonathan Coppess, director of the Gardner Agriculture Policy Program at the University of Illinois, is concerned the public relations blitz overshadowed the fact that so little substance has been shared. 

U.S. agriculture is trying to regain ground lost when Trump pulled out of the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017, and the USTR said this deal will do that. This type of single-country deal is an important aspect, Coppess said..

“These may be positive steps in the right direction,” Coppess said, “I don't know for certain, based on the details. But we are starting from way back. So positive steps have to be kind of measured in terms of that issue.”

Still, Coppess said, a deal with Japan would help bring some clarity to the Trump administration’s approach to trade policy, which he describes as incoherent.

“The way in which this has played out, the seemingly ‘fly by the seat your tweet’ mentality on how we do trade policy, and the use of tariffs in a way that we've not seen,” he said, “it damages the reputation of the American agricultural sector.” 

Coppess said this approach creates uncertainty about what the overall strategy is.

The National Farmers Union opposed the TPP, in part because it prefers agreements with fewer partners. Vice President Rob Larew said a deal with Japan is important not just because it would help provide some stability for U.S. exports but also for the broader context in which it was reached.

“It's also encouraging to know that USTR and the government can be negotiating these agreements,” he said, “that they can do that at the same time that we're trying to work through the behemoth problem of somebody like China.”

Still, Larew said, a deal with Japan might bring only marginal growth for U.S. pork, beef and other goods, at least in the short term. 

“For many of those products, the gains are going to come over the course of 10, 15 years,” he said. “It's important that we are back in these markets, particularly since we know that our competitors out there, other countries, do have those agreements and their supply chains are already being developed with Japan.”

While the Trump administration has said the proposal will not need approval from the U.S. Congress, some trade policy experts have raised concerns such an arrangement may violate World Trade Organization rules for bilateral agreements. 

Follow Amy on Twitter: @AgAmyinAmes