* Obama, Noda to meet April 30 at White House
* Next Trans-Pacific Partnership round in May in Dallas
* Current TPP members still hope for deal this year
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON, April 18 A senior U.S. lawmaker on
Wednesday expressed strong doubt about Japan's willingness to
make significant reforms required under a proposed trade pact,
while the top U.S. trade official said there was no timetable
for a decision on Japan, Canada and Mexico joining the
Representative Sander Levin said concerns about Japan's
possible entry in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks were more
troublesome than questions still surrounding Mexico and Canada's
bid to join negotiations with nine other countries on the
regional trade pact.
"I'm not sure that TPP can be the arena for successfully
confronting those issues," Levin said, referring to longstanding
barriers to Japan's auto and insurance markets. "I think we need
to be realistic."
Levin, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Ways
and Means Committee, made the comments at an event organized by
the Emergency Committee for American Trade, a U.S. business
group, to build support for the trade pact, which supporters
hope can be concluded this year.
The United States and other current TPP countries -
Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, Singapore, Malaysia,
Vietnam and Brunei - say they want to negotiate a "21st Century"
agreement that goes further than previous trade pacts in tearing
down barriers to trade and raising international standards in
areas like labor and environment.
Japan, Mexico and Canada in November expressed interest in
joining the talks. Over the past five months, the current
members have been discussing the feasibility of bringing the
three countries into the negotiations without lowering ambitions
for the agreement or allowing the talks to drag on and on.
MEETING WITH JAPAN'S LEADER
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will meet with U.S.
President Barack Obama on April 30, about two weeks before the
nine current TPP members convene in Dallas for the 12th round of
negotiations on the proposed pact.
Noda faces opposition at home to the agreement and there are
also concerns in the United States his government might not last
long enough to finish the talks if Japan is let in.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, asked about the
possibility that Noda might simply tell Obama that Japan was no
longer interested in joining the TPP, said it would not be
appropriate for him to speculate on that.
"We certainly hope their interest is going to be the same,"
Kirk said, while repeating any new entrant must be prepared to
meet the high goals already set for the pact.
Kirk said a decision on the three countries' entry would be
made collectively by the current TPP members and be driven by
"substance" rather than any deadline.
The preference would be to decide on all three countries at
once, but it is also possible that the decisions could be made
"sequentially," Kirk said.
In the meantime, negotiations among current TPP members will
proceed full speed ahead, with the goal of finishing by year
end, Kirk added.
House of Representatives Rules Committee Chairman David
Dreier, a Republican, said he believed Mexico was "in the best
position" now to join the negotiations.
Both Dreier and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max
Baucus, a Democrat, said they supported all three countries
joining the talks, but only if the applicants can convince
current TPP members they will not bog down the talks or lower
ambitions for the pact.
In the case of Canada, there are still questions about
whether it is willing to open its agricultural market further
than it has done under the North American Free Trade Agreement
and address certain U.S. copyright concerns.
Mexico has pressed for an answer soon on its application,
saying it should not be held back by lingering concerns over
Japan and Canada. But it is also facing U.S. pressure to do more
on intellectual property rights.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)