Apr 23, 2021
WASHINGTON, DC – Last Friday, President Biden held a meeting with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan, his first in-person dialogue with a foreign leader since taking office in January. Suga was elected as Japan’s Prime Minister in September 2020, which was soon followed by a phone conversation with then-President Trump.
The timing and messaging of this meeting is important to set a fresh stage for the U.S.-Japan relationship for the remainder of President Biden’s term. Former leaders from both nations agreed in early 2020 to begin negotiations on a comprehensive trade agreement, following the October 2019 signing of the agriculture-focused U.S.-Japan Agreement. Unfortunately, the onset of COVID-19 threw a wrench in those plans and the change in administrations has further weakened the commitment for formal talks to begin.
The White House readout of the meeting vaguely shared that the talks covered technology, climate change, and global health. It appears to have largely put U.S.-Japan trade talks in the back seat of the U.S.-Japan relationship, instead prioritizing an alliance to wield influence over China’s behavior.
The Administration has yet to announce whether they will pursue a comprehensive bilateral trade agreement with Japan or whether they will instead pursue entry into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), of which Japan is a part.
“We are certainly hopeful that the Administration does decide to pursue some level of comprehensive negotiations with Japan, whether bilaterally or from a multilateral angle, like CPTPP,” said Michael Rue, California rice farmer and Chair of USA Rice’s Asia Trade Policy Subcommittee.
“It is no secret that rice is a controversial topic of discussion with Japan, which is all the more reason for comprehensive discussions across a range of products and industries. USA Rice continues to advocate for increased market access into Japan in terms of both quality and quantity, including more direct access to the Japanese consumer,” Rue added.
U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai had a promising conversation with her counterpart, Japan’s Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu, in March as one of her first calls after her Senate confirmation. The USTR press office reported that they “discussed the importance of the U.S.-Japan trade relationship. They committed to engage on shared interests, including World Trade Organization reform, and digital trade…and agreed on the importance of maintaining regular, ongoing engagement on these and other critical trade issues.”