Pork producers in Canada and other leading countries are threatening to pull their support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal unless tariffs go to zero on "virtually all" agriculture products.
In an open letter, the pork producers said Japan's continued refusal to open vast sectors of its protected farm market – including pork and beef – is threatening to derail the talks.
Japan's protectionist stance is causing other countries to balk at making concessions of their own, warned the groups, which include the Canadian Pork Council and associations representing U.S., Australian, Chilean and Mexican pork producers.
"A broad exemption for Japan will encourage other TPP countries to withhold market access concessions, backtrack on current offers, lower the ambition on rules language and possibly unravel the entire agreement," according to the two-page letter. "It would set a dangerous precedent."
The letter does not specifically mention Canada's protected dairy and poultry sectors, which Ottawa has so far staunchly defended in the TPP negotiations.
But Martin Rice, executive director the Canadian Pork Council, agreed that Japan's intransigence in pivotal negotiations with the U.S. is providing cover for Canada and other countries.
"The talks aren't even going to the point where countries can make those kinds of choices because they aren't seeing what's on the table," Mr. Rice said.
"Everybody, not just Canada, is waiting to see what emerges out of the U.S.-Japan discussions. I don't blame Canada for not putting stuff on the table that is sensitive."
Mr. Rice said the TPP was supposed to be the "gold standard" for free-trade agreements, with zero tariffs on virtually everything. Instead, Japan is refusing to open its pork and beef markets – potential deal-breakers for Canada.
"That's what we understood TPP was all about – that everything would be on the table," he said.
TPP negotiators are meeting this week in Hanoi as they aim to reach a final deal by the end of the year. But momentum has stalled because of the slow progress of parallel negotiations between the U.S. and Japan, the newest TPP member.
Last month, a powerful group of U.S. senators, including the leaders of the trade subcommittee of the powerful House ways and means committee, urged the Obama administration to boot both Canada and Japan out of the TPP talks unless they open up their protected agricultural sectors.
The demands echo frustrations expressed publicly by top U.S. government officials, who have complained in recent months about Canada's refusal to put the supply management system on the table in the TPP talks.
The system, which shields domestic dairy, poultry and egg producers from most foreign competition, is becoming a more frequent target of other agricultural exporting powers, including the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
Toronto trade lawyer Lawrence Herman said he expects Japan to eventually crack under intense pressure from the U.S. and other TPP countries. And he said attention will then quickly shift to Canada and other countries that have so-called "sensitive" sectors.
"If Japan makes market-opening concessions, it will mean the guns will then be trained on Canada to put access to our supply managed sectors, particularly dairy, on the table. That would be a good thing," Mr. Herman said.