WASHINGTON A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday said Japan's refusal to drop all barriers to farm imports under a Pacific trade deal was unacceptable and urged the U.S. administration to cut Japan and Canada out of the talks if they did not give ground.
In a letter to President Barack Obama, 140 House members, or nearly one-third of the chamber, expressed "deep concern" about the state of agriculture market negotiations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), involving 12 countries from the Americas and Asia.
Japan, which is keen to protect sensitive sectors such as beef, rice and pork, had made an "unprecedented and objectionable" offer exempting numerous products from tariff elimination, which could set a damaging precedent for other trade talks, they said.
"We urge you to hold Japan and Canada to the same high standards as other TPP partners. Otherwise, Congressional support for a final TPP agreement will be jeopardized," the letter said.
"Indeed, we urge you to pursue the TPP negotiations without any country, including Japan, Canada, or others, that proves unwilling to open its market in accordance with these high standards."
The letter was signed by senior members of the House committee with jurisdiction over trade, including Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp and trade sub-committee chair Devin Nunes, both Republicans, and the sub-committee's top Democrat, Charles Rangel.
Farm lobby groups have already threatened to oppose the TPP, which is key to the Obama administration's foreign policy in Asia, if they do not get better access to Japan and Canada's markets.
Pork farmers said the congressional show of support was welcome, noting Japan was the fourth biggest market for U.S. farm exports, and Canada was No. 2.
Japan has said it will not agree to abolish all tariffs on wheat, rice, dairy, sugar, wheat, beef and pork. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said after the last ministerial TPP meeting that the United States was pressing for tariffs to be eliminated "to the maximum extent possible."
(Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Bernard Orr)