Washington —United Auto Workers President Bob King will meet with the top U.S. trade official on Wednesday as talks continue over creating a Pacific free trade zone including Japan.
King will meet with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, the USTR office said Monday. The pair are expected to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the proposed 12-nation free trade zone. Detroit’s Big Three automakers and the UAW want to ensure that Japan makes significant changes to open its market to U.S. vehicles and agree to limits in how central banks can impact the value of currency.
The U.S., Japan, Mexico, Canada and eight other nations have been negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership that would create a free trade zone accounting for 40 percent of the world’s economy. Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam are also part of the talks.
The meeting comes as Congress is considering approving fast-track authority that would allow the Obama administration to get an up or down vote on a trade deal without amendments, something many countries want before they will agree to a trade deal. President Barack Obama held a meeting top trade and economic aides last month to talk about the trade deal.
In November, Michigan congressional Democrats met at the White House with Vice President Joe Biden and Froman to make the case that the Trans-Pacific Partnership needs protections against currency manipulation — especially in reference to Japan and Japanese automakers. They also worry that without protections, China could one day join the treaty and use its ability to manipulate its currency to undercut U.S. auto production.
In October, Detroit automakers met with Lael Brainard, the Treasury’s undersecretary for international affairs, to make the case that without including tariffs, none of the other actions to open the Japanese market will be sufficient.
Froman and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew have brushed back suggestions that currency should be part of the trade deal, suggesting other international forums are better suited to address currency. In July, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said he did not believe the Japanese central bank was manipulating its currency.
In July, more than 80,000 hourly and salaried U.S. autoworkers signed a petition urging Congress to oppose the deal without major changes on currency by Japan, the world’s third-largest economy and auto market.
The UAW and Detroit’s Big Three automakers are worried that dropping tariffs on Japanese imports would give Japanese rivals a significant leg up and could lead to the loss of thousands of U.S. auto jobs.
General Motors Co. chairman and CEO Dan Akerson wrote a letter to President Barack Obama urging the administration to take a hard line with Japan.
“The Obama administration, American workers and retirees, and the U.S. automotive industry made tough choices and sacrifices to make this turnaround possible,” King said in July. “The UAW is concerned that all of this great progress could be threatened by Japan’s entry into TPP.”
In a Detroit News interview in August 2012, King opposed letting Japan join the trade talks.
“We don’t see any way that you can have fair trade with Japan because of all of the non-tariff barriers, Japanese culture, tight integration of the government policies and the companies,” King said. “We don’t see a way to overcome that.”
Emphasizing the difficulties of opening the market and fair trade with Japan, King said bluntly: “I don’t see that happening in my lifetime.”