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@ carthage.edu