On December 21, 2018, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) submitted to Congress and released to the public a summary of the Trump administration’s specific negotiating objectives for its U.S.-Japan Free Trade Agreement negotiations. This follows the USTR’s notification to Congress on October 16, 2018, of the Trump administration’s intention to enter into negotiations (see Trump and Trade Update dated October 17, 2018 and Update dated October 26, 2018), the submission of public comments – over 150 total – concerning negotiating objectives for any trade agreement with Japan, and a December 10, 2018 USTR hearing at which more than 40 witnesses testified on negotiating objectives.

The USTR has stated that its aim in the negotiations is to address both tariff and non-tariff barriers and to achieve fairer, more balanced trade. The summary notes that the United States and Japan are “the world’s first and third largest economies, respectively, representing about 30 percent of global Gross Domestic Product.” While Japan is an important market for U.S. exporters, the USTR notes, the market is “still too often underperforming” and “exporters in key sectors such as automobiles, agriculture, and services have been challenged by multiple tariff and non-tariff barriers for decades, leading to chronic U.S. trade imbalances with Japan.” The summary document consists of brief bullet point objectives for such issues as Trade in Goods; Customs, Trade Facilitation, and Rules of Origin; Technical Barriers to Trade; Trade in Services; Intellectual Property; Labor; Environment; Trade Remedies; Dispute Settlement; and other trade-related areas of focus for the negotiations.

In releasing the negotiating objectives, the USTR stated that it may “seek to pursue negotiations with Japan in stages, as appropriate, but we will only do so based on consultations with Congress.” It also noted that these negotiating objectives will be updated in the future and that the Trump administration is committed to working closely and transparently with Congress. Formal negotiations with Japan may commence in late January 2019.