WASHINGTON — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the case for an Asia-Pacific trade deal in an historic address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, pledging to skeptical lawmakers that Japan is committed to reforming its agricultural sector, a key sticking point in the negotiations.
“Involving countries in Asia-Pacific whose backgrounds vary, the U.S. and Japan must take the lead,” Abe said. “We must take the lead to build a market that is fair, dynamic, sustainable and is also free from the arbitrary intentions of any nation.”
After a meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Abe and President Obama said they made progress on outstanding issues that are part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement being negotiated between 12 countries.
No breakthroughs were made, but the leaders reiterated their commitment to TPP, which also includes Mexico, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, Peru, New Zealand, Australia, Brunei, Vietnam and Chile.
“In the Pacific market, we cannot overlook sweatshops or burdens on the environment, nor can we simply allow free riders on intellectual property,” Abe told members of Congress. “No. Instead we can spread our shared values around the world and have them take root: the rule of law, democracy and freedom. That is exactly what the TPP is all about.”
Abe faces a difficult challenge in winning over critics of TPP at home and in the U.S. Japanese agriculture interests have long opposed opening the country’s market to more competition. Conversely, U.S. lawmakers and farm groups are pressing the Obama administration to seek more concessions from Japan in the talks to lower tariffs on U.S. exports of autos and agriculture.
“Japan’s agriculture is at a crossroads,” Abe said. “In order for it to survive, it has to change now. We are bringing great reforms toward the agriculture policy that’s been in place for decades. We are also bringing sweeping reforms to our agricultural cooperatives that have not changed in 60 long years.”
He said corporate governance in Japan has improved and is now in line with global standards and “rock-solid regulations are being broken in such sectors as medicine and energy.
“Japan will not run away from any reforms,” Abe added. “We keep our eyes only on the road ahead and push forward with structural reforms.”