The United States and Japan reported today that they have made significant progress during talks this week on the stalemate over market access issues that have been blocking the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal. The talks occurred in Japan, while President Obama was visiting Tokyo on the first leg of his Pacific Rim tour.  TPP has been under negotiations for more than four years, although Japan only joined the takes in 2013.  One of the biggest hurdles has been Japan continuing to try to protect rice, sugar, dairy, beef and pork, and wheat from major tariff reductions or elimination under TPP.

“Today, we have identified a path forward on important bilateral issues,” the two countries said in a joint statement from Tokyo released just before President Obama departed for Seoul.  “This marks a key milestone in the TPP negotiations and will inject fresh momentum into the broader talks.  We now call upon all TPP partners to move as soon as possible to take the necessary steps to conclude the agreement.  Even with this step forward, there is still working to be done to conclude TPP,” the statement said.

Little details were available about what progress may have been made in the bilateral talks but it was reported that intense talks occurred between President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Japan’s chief TPP negotiator Akira Amara said that “overall, the gaps are steadily narrowing.”  However, those close to the negotiations have said that, if this new “path forward” bogs down again, there may be increased pressure for the TPP countries to drop Japan from the talks.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman arrived in Tokyo with President Obama and reportedly put more pressure on Japan during talks this week  with Akira Amari, Japan’s trade negotiator.  “We’re at an important crossroads in the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations, as Japan looks to revitalize its economy and to help shape a stronger regional economic architecture for the negotiation of a high-standard, ambitious, and comprehensive TPP agreement,” Froman said.

“This is a moment for Japan to take an elevated view and to choose a bold path of economic renewal, revitalization, and regional leadership. TPP is an opportunity for the United States and Japan to lead in promoting peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.  Its economic and strategic importance is clear,” Froman said.