US-Ja­pan trade deal ad­vances – with global sig­nif­i­cance


While much of the me­dia and many politi­cians have be­come ob­sessed with the nu­clear ne­go­ti­a­tions in­volv­ing Iran, un­re­lated and also un­der­re­ported talks have achieved im­por­tant progress.

Trade ne­go­tia­tors be­tween Ja­pan and the United States have made ma­jor strides, and are close to a fi­nal agree­ment. Last year, hopes were frus­trated that ne­go­ti­a­tions could be com­pleted be­fore Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s trip to Ja­pan.

Now, there is op­ti­mism that ac­cord will be reached in time for Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s trip to the United States from April 28 to May 3. That sched­ule in­cludes talks with Obama and an ad­dress to a joint ses­sion of the U.S. Congress.

In ad­di­tion to trade, the Abe visit will en­com­pass dis­cus­sion of vi­tal de­fense and na­tional se­cu­rity is­sues. Grow­ing na­tion­al­ism is ev­i­dent in Ja­pan, and re­flected in the prime min­is­ter’s own public state­ments, but there is no wide sup­port for any mas­sive change in de­fense pos­ture.

The sub­stan­tial arms buildup in China re­ceives con­tin­u­ing global at­ten­tion and con­cern, along with the wider re­gional arms race, and on­go­ing mar­itime dis­putes. North Korea’s of­ten wild rhetoric, com­bined with nu­clear weapons devel­op­ment, make that coun­try a par­tic­u­larly danger­ous wild card.

Ja­pan-U.S. trade agree­ment is cen­tral to the wider Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) ne­go­ti­a­tions. This ef­fort at trade and in­vest­ment lib­er­al­iza­tion be­gan rel­a­tively modestly in 2002, and has steadily ex­panded to en­com­pass a large num­ber of na­tions in the vast Pa­cific re­gion. The U.S. joined the process in 2008, and Ja­pan in 2013.

The dura­bil­ity of the TPP ne­go­ti­a­tions re­flects the com­plex­ity of is­sues in­volved, but also steady growth of Pa­cific re­gional in­sti­tu­tions for eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion. ASEAN (As­so­ci­a­tion of Southeast Asian Na­tions) was cre­ated in 1967 and has grow­ing in­flu­ence.

APEC (Asia Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion) was con­ceived by Australia Prime Min­is­ter Bob Hawke in 1989. The ini­tia­tive was em­braced en­thu­si­as­ti­cally by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush and Sec­re­tary of State James Baker, as the Cold War with the Soviet Union was clearly end­ing.

In the At­lantic re­gion, NATO and the Euro­pean Union can trace their ori­gins back to the late 1940s and early 1950s re­spec­tively. By con­trast, Asia lacks the same longestab­lished frame­work of col­lab­o­ra­tive in­sti­tu­tions.

Since 1980, United States trade with Asia over­all has been greater than with Europe, and that dif­fer­en­tial con­tin­ues to ex­pand. The Pa­cific re­gion en­com­passes a steadily ex­pand­ing share of the world’s eco­nomic prod­uct, in­vest­ment and trade.

Pres­i­dent Obama in 2009, dur­ing his first months in of­fice, par­tic­i­pated in an APEC sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore and has con­tin­ued such in­volve­ment. This en­gage­ment in ef­fect helped to strengthen Asia’s re­gional or­ga­ni­za­tions as global as well as U.S. part­ners.

This in turn fa­cil­i­tated ef­forts to mit­i­gate the fi­nan­cial cri­sis and con­se­quent re­ces­sion, which was world­wide in scope but con­cen­trated in the At­lantic re­gion. Asia’s eco­nomic strength has been cru­cial to the slow re­cov­ery.

The 2006 APEC sum­mit was held in Viet­nam. The gath­er­ing pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity to high­light that econ­omy. Viet­nam did not join ASEAN un­til 1995, re­flect­ing the lin­ger­ing in­flu­ence of the Cold War and the Viet­nam War. U.S. Sec­re­tary of De­fense Don­ald Rums­feld was hon­ored dur­ing the 2006 sum­mit.

To­day, free mar­kets, and global trade and in­vest­ment, grad­u­ally en­cour­age sta­bil­ity and the rule of law in Asia and else­where in the world. At the same time, the com­plex his­tory of the re­gion re­quires for­eign poli­cies which are care­ful and in­formed. This ap­plies es­pe­cially to the U.S. Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor at Carthage Col­lege in Wis­con­sin and au­thor of “Af­ter the Cold War” (Macmil­lan/Pal­grave and NYU Press). He can be reached at acyr@

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