WASHINGTON, Feb 29 (Reuters) - U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to assure lawmakers on Wednesday that the United States would not sign off on Japan's entry into trans-Pacific trade talks until it is confident Tokyo is ready to meet high U.S. goals for the pact.
"We've been very honest (in talks with the Japanese) that they have to meet those standards," Kirk told the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee at hearing on the Obama administration's trade agenda. "Frankly, it's in Japan's hand to demonstrate their willingness to address these issues."
Japan, the world's third-largest economy, announced its interest last year in joining negotiations with the United States, Australia, Vietnam and six other countries in the Asia Pacific region on the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, known as TPP.
That has raised concern among Detroit-based automakers Ford, Chrylser and General Motors, who oppose Japan's entry because believe Tokyo is not prepared to tear down "non-tariff barriers" that they blame for low U.S. auto sales.
Other U.S. farm and business groups have welcomed Japan's potential participation, but worry Tokyo may not really be willing to open its market and could drag out the negotiations for years.
A free trade pact with Japan could require the United States to phase out its remaining low tariffs on Japanese automobiles as well as a 25 percent tariff on pickup trucks. Japan already has a zero percent tariff on U.S. cars, but imports few cars from the United States or other foreign automakers.
The nine countries currently negotiating the TPP are beginning a new round of negotiations in Melbourne in coming days and have a goal of reaching an final agreement by the end of this year.
Kirk gave no timetable for a decision on Japan's entry or for a decision on Canada and Mexico, which have also applied to join the talks.