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Stalemate: U.S. and Japan Fail to Advance Trade Talks

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OBAMA ABE
SAUL LOEB via Getty Images

President Obama recently wrapped up a meeting in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, where the leaders once again failed to make a breakthrough on their deadlock in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

Obama and Abe have been in negotiations over Japan's treatment of sensitive agricultural products, including rice, beef, pork, wheat, and dairy products, and over trade in automobiles -- but a breakthrough is still out of reach. This lack of progress is just one of several indicators that the TPP is faltering, if not failing.

There are still a great number of red flags surrounding the pact that spell trouble ahead for the agreement.

To begin with, the public and members of Congress continue to criticize the secrecy of the negotiations. After more than four years of negotiations, the only text available to the public is what WikiLeaks has exposed on their website. The lack of transparency is one of the myriad reasons that so many members of Congress oppose fast-track authority for the TPP. Fast-track would limit Congress' influence to a simple up-or-down vote on the agreement as a whole, with little debate and no room for amendments or changes.

Another outstanding issue in the incomplete TPP puzzle is the trade pact's chapter on the environment. A leaked version of the environment chapter, posted to WikiLeaks on Jan. 15, revealed that the TPP's stance on environmental safeguards is extremely weak. The Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, and Natural Resources Defense Council called the draft "unacceptable" in our joint analysis.

In response to the leak, the office of the United States Trade Representative published a blog post saying that the United States "will insist on a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter in the TPP or we will not come to agreement." More than 100 members of Congress also weighed in, saying that the "TPP must include new and robust commitments for member countries to protect and conserve forests, oceans, and wildlife and obligate member countries to comply with both domestic environmental laws, not derogating from those laws, and meet their commitments under multilateral environmental agreements."

However, we understand that TPP countries still have not agreed to make the environment chapter legally enforceable. They have also not yet agreed to many (if any) of the provisions that the Sierra Club has been calling for -- such as a ban on shark finning and on trade in illegally harvested timber, wildlife, and fish.

Members of Congress have made many other demands of the TPP, including disciplines on currency manipulation, but so far to no avail. Among the many other unresolved issues still under intense debate are the level of labor standards and protections and the pact's effects on our Internet freedom and access to affordable medicines.

Congress and the public have largely been opposed to granting fast-track authority for an agreement that has been negotiated in such secrecy and with so many complicated and controversial issues.

There's a bumpy road ahead for the TPP, and the continued stalemate between the U.S. and Japan is a harbinger of things to come for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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