WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Carl Levin (D-MI), along with U.S. Representative Sander Levin (MI-9), led a group of 49 of their colleagues today in urging President Obama to put the best interests of American workers and businesses first as negotiations continue with Japan on its potential entry to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Brown and his colleagues specifically cited Japan’s longstanding efforts to impose trade barriers and block U.S. exports as actions that have hurt the American economy, domestic job creation, and specifically its auto-industry.

“Japan’s refusal to adopt fair and reasonable trade practices has come at the expense of American workers and businesses,” said Brown. “Japan should not be able to get away with a one-sided trade agreement that hurts our nation’s manufacturing industry and the one in eight Ohio jobs supported by the auto industry.”  

The Senators and Congressmen indicated four overlying issues President Obama should be most concerned with:

  • Japan’s Auto Market Is Closed. Despite being the third-largest auto market in the world, Japan’s auto market import penetration ranks last among members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
  • The Very Structure of Japan’s Industry Depends on Protection at Home and Exploitation of Foreign Auto Markets: Despite having only a five million automobile domestic market, Japan’s auto sector is already producing more than 11 million automobiles. As its population ages and shrinks, this export pressure will only increase. 
  • The Impact on the U.S. Trade Deficit – and U.S. Jobs – Is Profound and Perpetual.  Japan is the second-largest source of the U.S. trade imbalance after China, and, in 2012, automotive products accounted for more than two-thirds of the deficit.
  • Negotiations to Open the Market Have Repeatedly Failed. Despite decades of effort to curtail trade barriers and increase American exports, no formal talks have worked, including the Market-Oriented Sector-Selective talks in 1986, the Structural Impediment Initiative talks launched in 1989, and the 1995 U.S.-Japan Auto Agreement.

Brown’s letter can be read in its entirety HERE.

The TPP is a proposed trade agreement that would link several countries in North, Central, and South America with countries in the Asia-Pacific. In addition to the United States, the current TPP countries are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam; Canada, Mexico, and Japan have also announced their intent to join the TPP. While Congress has the constitutional authority to regulate trade and commerce with foreign nations, for the past several decades, Congress has delegated to the executive branch the authority to select trading partners, negotiate, and sign new trade deals before it votes on the matter.

Brown has long been an opponent of NAFTA-style agreements that undermine Ohio manufacturing and automotive. In June 2012, he introduced the 21st Century Trade Agreements and Market Access Act that would have restored Congressional oversight to trade negotiations and ensure that American trading partners play by the same rules as the U.S. Brown announced the bill’s introduction with business and labor leaders including James P. Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and Ford Vice President of International Government Affairs Stephen Biegun, each of whom discussed the need to prioritize support for American manufacturing in the TPP.

In November 2011, Brown sent a letter to President Obama raising concerns over the existing automotive trade deficit with Japan and seeking more support for American manufacturing in the TPP. In the letter, Brown requested that the President address a variety of discriminatory policies before allowing Japan to join the TPP, including nontariff barriers and currency manipulation. Brown noted that Japan has instituted a variety of policies that have made it difficult for American and foreign automakers to gain a foothold in the Japanese market.

In October 2011 Brown sent a letter urging President Obama to change course in trade policy and rewrite trade rules to put Ohio jobs and Ohio workers first. He led the House opposition to the Dominican Republic – Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in 2005, falling just two votes shy of blocking the agreement after the vote was held open for nearly two hours. The author of the book Myths of Free Trade and described as “Congress’ leading proponent of American manufacturing,” Brown also stood up to President Clinton during debate of NAFTA in 1993.