U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said yesterday before the House Ways and Means Committee that he “very much” expects to finish talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement this year.  Froman was testifying on the President’s 2014 trade policy agenda.

“The critical issue right now is Japan market access on agriculture and autos,” Froman told the committee.  “There’s difficult issues that are left.  There are a reasonable number of them.  But our negotiators are working around the clock to narrow those issues and close them out,” he said.  It is time for Japan to “step up to the plate,” he told the committee members. “They have not yet come to the table with a position that allows us to bridge our remaining gaps,” he said in response to a question from Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio).

The two countries have engaged in bilateral talks twice in March and early April in Washington, and acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler will be traveling to Tokyo next week to seek further progress.  Japan is reluctant to reduce or eliminate tariffs on five categories of agricultural goods: rice, beef and pork, sugar, dairy and wheat.

“We are working to ensure that the final agreement will provide comprehensive market opening for goods and services; strong and enforceable labor and environmental standards; innovative commitments to intellectual property rights; groundbreaking new rules designed to ensure fair competition between state-owned enterprises and private companies; and, for the first time, obligations that will address the issues of the digital economy.  We are also working to complete parallel negotiations with Japan to address longstanding issues related to autos, insurance, and other non-tariff measures,  Froman said in his written testimony.

Froman’s written testimony also said that “we expect to make significant progress this year toward a T-TIP agreement with the European Union.  Agriculture is vital to the American Economy.  In 2013, U.S. farmers and ranchers exported a record $148.4 billion of food and agricultural goods to consumers around the world.  In 2014, the Administration aims to help them build on that record performance.”