PRESIDENT Barack Obama wrapped up talks with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, Japan, at the end of April without reaching an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.
However, Administration officials, including U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, said negotiators did make progress on agriculture and automobile market access issues with Japan.
In a joint call with Abe, Obama said, "We've been very clear and honest that American manufacturers and farmers need to have meaningful access to markets that are included under TPP, including here in Japan. That's what will make it a good deal for America — for our workers and our consumers and our families. That's my bottom line, and I can't accept anything less."
Obama said bold steps are needed to reach a comprehensive TPP agreement, but he also believes it can be done.
During a May 1 Senate Finance Committee hearing, Froman noted that significant progress has been made in terms of starting to set parameters for how to reach a final deal.
"We think there was enough progress there to give further momentum to TPP negotiations overall," Froman told senators.
On board Air Force One returning home from Japan, a senior Obama Administration official said negotiators from the two countries went line by line looking for where resolutions could occur and laid out a pathway towards potential resolutions.
For example, the official said the deeper the cut in a tariff, the longer it may take to get there, which gives the negotiators a sense of what the packages might be and how to find resolutions.
Beef, pork, dairy, wheat, rice and sugar are the six categories for which Japan is seeking preferential treatment. The senior official noted that the Japan's agricultural market has been fundamentally closed for 60 years.
The official said the Japanese government hasn't agreed to change its stance on these sectors.
"I'd say that these are sensitive sectors for them, and what we do in TPP in these sectors needs to take into account their sensitivities but, at the same time, needs to take into account the requirements of ambition for TPP as a whole and the need to create new, meaningful market access," the official stated.
All of the TPP countries will get together in mid-May for another chief negotiators meeting. TPP ministers will also see each other around the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in mid-May.
In order for the President to capitalize on a somewhat aggressive trade agenda, Congress needs to grant him trade promotion authority (TPA).
During questioning before the Senate Finance Committee, which earlier this year proposed legislation authorizing that authority, Froman said he welcomed the opportunity to secure a TPA bill that could garner broad, bipartisan support.
However, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) has objected to the current TPA bill.
Ranking committee member Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) said if TPA is not renewed, "it creates a serious, and perhaps fatal, flaw in the President's trade agenda."
Hatch called on the Administration to redouble its efforts to sign TPA into law as soon as possible, with the "political clock ticking" to do something this summer.