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Editorial: Japan should use beef tariffs to lure U.S. back to TPP talks table

Japan and the United States have started talks to review conditions for Japan’s safeguard system for American beef, which allows for a tariff hike when imports surpass a predetermined level to protect the domestic industry.

 

The talks are expected to lead to an increase in the trigger point, which stands at 247,000 tons for the current fiscal year.

 

The current framework was introduced under the Japan-U.S. trade agreement that took effect in January last year.

 

In the fiscal year that ended in March, the tariff was to be raised from 25.8 percent to 38.5 percent for at least 30 days after U.S. beef imports topped the trigger point. Japan implemented the safeguard measure in mid-March.

 

American beef is used widely in Japan for such dishes as “gyudon” beef bowls and grilled meat. Increased American beef imports at a lower tariff are good news for consumers while they raise concerns among domestic producers.

 

An addendum to the bilateral trade agreement states when the safeguard measure is applied the two countries will consult “with a view to modifying the conditions.” A slight increase in the trigger point appears inevitable.

 

What should not be forgotten, however, is that the relatively tough safeguard conditions for U.S. beef imports is a price that Washington must pay for its withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

 

If the safeguard system is weakened and rarely invoked, there will be no effective means to stop expansion of U.S. exports of beef, the country’s main agricultural product, to Japan.

 

To maintain an incentive for Washington to rejoin the TPP, Tokyo should limit any increase of the trigger point.

 

Japan and the United States should together play the central role in establishing rules for the Pacific Rim economic sphere, where China’s presence is rapidly growing.

 

Their leadership is vital for achieving high levels of liberalization of trade in goods and services and protecting the rule of law.

 

Even under the Biden administration, which places a high value on cooperation with friends and allies, Washington is unlikely to return to the TPP any time soon. But Japan should call on the United States to become actively involved in multilateral trade frameworks.

 

The key test is whether the White House will attach importance to the rules set by the World Trade Organization, unlike his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, who gave short shrift to those rules.

 

From this point of view, there are flaws in the Japan-U.S. trade agreement.

 

Under the WTO rules, trade agreements between two or more countries should eliminate tariffs on about 90 percent of the trade values involved. Under the Japan-U.S. trade agreement, however, the levels of tariff elimination promised by the United States are far lower than the requirement.

 

The removal of U.S. tariffs on Japanese automobiles has been left to future negotiations. If Tokyo and Washington fail to strike a deal on auto tariffs, the agreement will be seen as a violation of the WTO requirement.

 

The WTO requires members to immediately submit a notification of any bilateral agreement when it is formed to ensure transparency of trade agreements.

 

But neither Japan nor the United States has filed a notification of their agreement, which came into effect more than a year ago. Both governments should fulfill this obligation swiftly by consulting with each other.

 

The talks on the safeguard system is the first of Japan’s trade negotiations with the Biden administration.

 

The two sides should go beyond simply discussing technical issues on beef tariffs and tackle the broader challenge of laying the groundwork for Washington’s return to the TPP and shift to respecting the WTO’s role.

 

–The Asahi Shimbun, April 8

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