NAWG, U.S. Wheat Associates and 60 other major agricultural and food organizations wrote Obama Administration officials this week urging them to “smooth the way” for Japan to become part of ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade talks.

In letters to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the groups said Japan’s joining the negotiations would make an eventual TPP agreement more significant and strengthen the support of stakeholders.

Japan is one of the largest buyers of U.S. agricultural products despite extensive and complicated import barriers for food products, which could prove problematic to its inclusion in the talks.

“We understand that there are important issues to be tackled before any final decision can be made with respect to Japan’s participation, not the least of which is to gain assurances from Japan that it recognizes and accepts that the TPP must be a comprehensive agreement,” the groups said.

“We believe the Japanese government is beginning to undertake the necessary changes to domestic programs that will permit it to negotiate on that basis.”

Ag exports to Japan from the U.S. in 2010 were worth nearly $12 billion. Japan is routinely the largest buyer of U.S. wheat, purchasing up to 10 percent of U.S. wheat exports worth an estimated $1 billion in marketing year 2010/2011.

The groups writing included most major commodity groups and their affiliated export market development organizations; many producers and processors of fruit and meat products; and major food companies like Kraft.

While keenly aware of the current and growing value of Asian markets, led by China and Japan, the groups are also cognizant that there is a flurry of trade negotiations going on without U.S. participation. It is likely Japan will begin negotiating a trade agreement with the European Union in 2012, making a successful TPP including the country all the more important for U.S. exporters.

NAWG and USW support a comprehensive TPP agreement that provides improved market access and includes ambitious language on modern trade issues. The organizations also support Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia joining the talks.

On a related note, the House Ways and Means Committee’s trade subcommittee announced this week it will hold a hearing on the TPP negotiations Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 10 a.m.

More about the TPP negotiations is at http://www.ustr.gov/tpp. The full letters sent this week are available online at www.wheatworld.org/trade.