The two trade agreements that Prime Minister Abe and President Trump announced on September 25, 2019 and that were signed on October 7, 2019 will go into effect at the beginning of 2020.
The U.S. having notified Congress of its intent to enter into negotiations with Japan in 2018, limited what it negotiated in these current agreements to tariff reductions and digital trade (presumably requiring no U.S. law changes) and thus will be handled by Presidential Proclamation. Questions about compliance with consultation requirements have been raised by House Ways and Means Democrats, and there are questions about whether such partial agreements are consistent with U.S. and Japanese obligations under the WTO (GATT 1994 Art. XXIV). Nonetheless, USTR Lighthizer has indicated that following completion of the Japanese approval process last week that President Trump will be issuing a Proclamation this week (week of December 9).
In Japan, the Lower House of the Diet approved the deal in November and the Upper House last week.
The two countries will implement the agreements on some tariff reductions/eliminations and on digital trade on January 1, 2020.
As reported in the Japanese press, Japan is lowering or removing tariffs on various agricultural products to put the U.S. on a level playing field with other countries who continued with the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement after the U.S. withdrew. The value of U.S. agriculture exports covered by reductions or eliminations was listed at $7.2 billion. See The Japan Times, Upper House approves U.S.-Japan trade deal, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/12/04/business/economy-business/upper-house-approves-united-states-japan-trade-deal/#.Xe-8w-hKiUk.
In an earlier post, the loss of market share by U.S. agriculture exporters of key commodities in 2019 because of the disadvantage in tariff rates vs. other major agricultural exporters was reviewed. The reduction in US exports has continued through October based on data now available. Thus, U.S. exports of corn (HS 1005) to Japan are down 24.7% in the first ten months of 2019; pork exports (HS 0203) are down 7.58%; fresh or chilled beef exports (HS 0201) are down 8.55%; wheat/meslin exports (HS 1001) are down 13.25%; frozen beef exports (HS 0202) are down 18.05%; frozen fish exports (HS 0303) are down 29.85% and fresh or dried nut exports (HS 0802) are down 7.39%.
The United States is reducing or eliminating tariffs on imports from Japan that in 2018 were around $7.1 billion. There are a few agriculture products but most are manufactured goods. The two countries have committed to starting negotiations on a broader deal (phase 2) to begin in April or May 2020. Total imports from Japan in 2018 were $143.7 billion, so the phase 1 coverage addresses only 4.9% of U.S. imports from Japan. Many other imports from Japan are already duty free. Thus, the products from Japan covered by the phase 1 agreement subject to reductions or eliminations in tariffs accounted for 9.8% of the calculated duties on total U.S. imports from Japan in 2018.
Nearly half of all duties the U.S. collected on imports from Japan occurred on motor vehicles and parts (HS Chapter 87)(49.1% of total collected duties in 2018). While elimination of duties on motor vehicles is a high priority for Japan, any reduction will be part of the phase 2 negotiations.
For U.S. agriculture producers who have had a very difficult time from trade retaliation by many trading partners over the last two years. the phase 1 tariff agreement is welcome news.
As both the U.S. and Japan have high level digital trade systems, the main importance of the digital trade agreement will be as a model for efforts with other countries going forward.
The Trump Administration’s push for a phase 1 deal with Japan to offset significant disadvantages suffered by U.S. agriculture exporters from the U.S. withdrawal from the TPP has received buy-in from Japan (presumably in part to limit the likelihood of action against Japan from the Section 232 investigations on automobiles and parts)and despite the questions on how this piecemeal approach comports with international obligations of both countries.
In what is looking to be a busy finish to 2019 for the United States on trade issues — USMCA appearing close to consideration by the U.S. Congress (the revisions to the agreement to be addressed in Mexico today (Dec. 10) and reportedly sufficient to have the revised agreement go to the House next week); a possible phase 1 US-China deal still possible ahead of new tariffs kicking in on imports from China on December 15 — the U.S.-Japan trade agreement is a market opening event of some importance for U.S. agriculture and the agreement on digital trade is one with a major trading partner and reflects U.S. ambitions.