Trade ministers from the 11 current Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) members this past weekend announced that they were collectively supporting Japan’s bid to join the ongoing negotiations, meaning that Tokyo will be able to join once each country completes its “domestic processes.”
This means Japan will likely join the talks in July, as the Obama administration must first provide 90 days of advance notice to Congress before engaging in any new trade talks. In order to get Japan in by July, the Obama administration would have to submit that notification to Congress before the end of April.
TPP ministers “confirmed that each TPP member has concluded bilateral consultations with Japan” and “agreed by consensus to finalize with Japan the process for entry in a manner that allows the negotiations to continue expeditiously toward conclusion,” according to an April 20 joint statement by TPP ministers. “Japan can then join the TPP negotiations upon completion of current members’ respective domestic processes,” it said.
In a separate statement issued on behalf of all eleven current TPP members, New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser welcomed Japan into the talks, especially Japan’s commitment “to achieving the shared goal of a comprehensive, high-ambition, next-general agreement as rapidly as possible.”
The TPP ministers, who met and discussed Japan’s interest in joining on the margins of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Indonesia, also charted a path forward on remaining issues “that will enable them to conclude the negotiations on a 2013 timeframe,” according to the joint statement. Several TPP leaders, including President Obama, last year declared their intention to conclude talks by the end of 2013.
In Indonesia, TPP ministers also made clear that they would personally intensify their engagement on the toughest TPP issues. Ministers “committed to intensifying their own engagement over the coming months to work out solutions to outstanding sensitive issues and to achieve the TPP Leaders’ objective of a high-quality, ambitious, and comprehensive agreement this year.”
They also agreed on “next steps” to advance TPP talks in a range of areas. In particular, they directed negotiators to “complete their work on some chapters” and to “accelerate progress” on tough issues like intellectual property rights, state-owned enterprises (SOEs), environmental protections, market access packages and government procurement. The next round of talks is scheduled to take place May 15-24 in Peru.
The joint decision to allow Japan to join was contingent on successful outcomes in bilateral consultations between Japan and each TPP member. The U.S. and Japan concluded their bilateral negotiations on April 12, where Japan accepted the longest possible phaseout for U.S. auto tariffs and agreed to two separate bilateral negotiations to address auto-specific trade barriers and other non-tariff barriers.
New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Peru were the last of the TPP members to conclude bilateral consultations prior to the joint announcement. Ministers from these countries likely did so in bilateral meetings with Japan’s minister in charge of TPP affairs, Akira Amari, on the sidelines of the APEC meeting before the April 20 joint announcement.
In an April 19 statement, New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser said the two countries had reached a successful conclusion after a meeting with Amari.
Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast also publicly announced that Japan and Canada had concluded consultations with Japan in a separate April 20 statement. A Canadian official last week said Ottawa had been seeking clarification from the Japan and the U.S. on how a bilateral deal between those countries on autos and other issues would affect Canada.
TPP ministers met and discussed Japan’s interest in joining the talks at an April 19 meeting, but did not make any announcements until the following day.