It’s well known that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who announced Japan will join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations on Friday, will face an uphill battle in bringing Japan’s economy in line with the TPP’s strict trade requirements, given the expected opposition from powerful industy groups, many of which are strong backers of Abe’s political party.
Now it appears Abe will have a sympathetic ally in President Barack Obama.
Thirty-five members of the House of Representatives and eight Senators wrote to President Obama on Thursday to express their opposition to Japan joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
All forty-three lawmakers that signed the letter are members of the president’s Democratic Party. The thirty-five House members account for just under 18 percent of the entire Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives.
“Japan's significant, long-standing, and persistent economic barriers put in place to block our exports and support theirs have hurt American workers and businesses for decades,” the Congressional Democrats wrote in the letter, which is primarily concerned with Japan’s automobile exports hurting American car companies.
“Nowhere is the closed nature of Japan's markets more evident than in the auto sector, where Japanese policies and practices have been carefully honed – over generations – to keep out American and other foreign cars and parts,” the lawmakers write.
Although Japan does not impose formal tariffs on foreign-made vehicles imported into the country, the U.S. lawmakers cite a lengthy list of barriers they argue Japan has put in place to protect its domestic car industry, including: currency manipulation, discriminatory taxes, government incentive programs for consumers who purchase Japanese-made cars, and erroneous safety, noise and environmental regulations, among others.
According to the letter’s signees, the result of this has been that “for every automobile that America exports to Japan, Japan exports over 120 automobiles to the United States.” This, the lawmakers claim, has been a huge contributor the huge and growing trade imbalance between the U.S. and Japan.
America’s auto industry and labor union have traditionally been strong backers of Obama’s Democratic Party. The industry also holds special, symbolic importance for the current administration, owing to the president’s strong support for an $80 billion bailout of the auto industry in his first year in office, which saved America’s major car manufacturers from bankruptcy. The proposed bailout was highly controversial and came under withering criticism at the time from many, including Mitt Romney, who later ran against Obama in the 2012 election.