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Obama’s Japan trip brings more bad news for Tim Groser

Obama’s Japan trip brings more bad news for Tim Groser and the TPPA

‘Tim Groser’s ambitions for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement were dealt yet another blow with US President Obama failing to secure a deal on agriculture during his trip to Japan this week’, said Professor Jane Kelsey from the University of Auckland, who was in Tokyo on Monday just before Obama’s visit.

The political and media commentary and debriefs from the trip were full of the standard rhetoric – ‘we took the talks to different levels’, identified a ‘pathway for resolution’, achieved ‘a key milestone’.

But the talks remain stalled over market access for US exporters on key agricultural products, especially pork, and emissions standards for automobiles imported into Japan. In turn, the US is playing hardball on market access for Japanese light trucks.

Behind the scenes, the US pushed hard and the Abe government pushed back. It has already made hugely unpopular concessions on the five sacred agricultural products it had sworn to protect.

They will keep talking, but it is unclear when or whether they can really reach a deal.

Japan is understood to be a reluctant starter for a proposed meeting of TPPA ministers in Singapore after they meet for APEC in China in mid May.

Significantly for New Zealand, dairy was almost never mentioned in the political and media coverage of Obama’s trip.

‘This seems to confirm speculation before Obama’s visit that the US dairy industry has not been pushing hard for concessions on dairy from Japan because it wants to retain political capital for a push against Canada’s supply management regime’, Kelsey said.

‘That contrasts starkly to the beef and pork lobby. Members of Congress sent a strongly worded letter to Obama immediately before the trip demanding zero tariffs or that he asks Japan to leave the talks’.

Professor Kelsey has only been able to locate one media report on dairy, from Nikkei Shimbun on 23 April, which relates to cheese.

Japan’s tariffs on imported cheese range from 22.4% to 40%. Nikkei Shimbun says Tokyo was prepared to consider adopting quotas for US cheese, below which imports would be subject to reduced or zero tariffs. Import duties could also be cut for blue cheese. But tariffs on butter and powdered skim milk would be maintained.

‘If this is correct, Tim Groser can kiss goodbye to any meaningful dairy access to Japan or to the US being prepared to offer access to its dairy markets because it has increased its exports to Japan.’

During her visit to Tokyo Professor Kelsey gathered further information on the recent Australia Japan free trade deal.
‘I was told that the Abe government has tried to justify the recent deal with Australia by saying it did not really increase market access at all’.

The government is saying that any low or tariff free quotas were set at the level of existing imports from Australia. Where there were tariff cuts, an emergency safeguard provision allowed the tariffs to be reimposed if imports exceeded the existing levels.

‘Whether this information is accurate awaits the release of the actual text, which may be several months away. But if it is true, it reinforces the message that New Zealand is on a hiding to nothing in the TPPA.’


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