U.S. gov't notifies Congress of intent to include Japan in TPP talks

The U.S. government on Wednesday notified Congress of its intent to include Japan in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks, the office of the U.S. Trade Representative said, paving the way for Tokyo to join the multilateral negotiations in July.

"Today's notification triggers a 90-day consultation period with Congress and the public on U.S. negotiating objectives with respect to Japan," the office said.

"The participation of Japan, a major U.S. trading partner as well as close ally, further increases the economic significance of a TPP agreement," Acting U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis told in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner.

"With Japan's entry, TPP countries would account for nearly 40 percent of global gross domestic product and about one-third of all world trade," he said.

The notification came after 11 countries already involved in the trans-Pacific free trade talks announced Sunday that they welcome Japan as a new participant in the negotiations.

Prior to the announcement, the administration of President Barack Obama said on April 12 that Washington and Tokyo had completed their preliminary consultations.

The 11 countries in the TPP talks -- Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam -- are considering holding talks in Malaysia in late July.

Forging a trans-Pacific free trade accord is a priority issue for the Obama administration which is keen to boost exports to the fast-growing economies and generate more jobs.

Marantis tried to dispel concerns among some U.S. lawmakers that Tokyo's participation will further delay the TPP negotiations or make the agreement less ambitious.

"We are focused on seeking to ensure that Japan's participation would not slow down the negotiations as we have arrived at an advanced stage of the negotiations and TPP countries are aiming to conclude them this year," the trade official said in the letter to Boehner.

"Japan has also confirmed that it will subject all goods to negotiation -- both agricultural and manufactured goods -- and will join the other TPP countries to achieve a high-standard and comprehensive agreement this year," he said.

The USTR also said the United States will conduct bilateral, parallel negotiations with Japan to address concerns in the automotive and insurance sectors and that the administration will consult closely with the U.S. Congress.