Government officials from the United States and Japan called Monday for completion of an international trade agreement that they said would strengthen ties between the two allies and help both countries recover from their own economic struggles.
Governors from Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin joined Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad in meetings with Japanese governors, officials, and company executives to talk trade and business opportunities at the 46th annual meeting of the Midwest U.S.-Japan Association in Des Moines.
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The conference was organized to focus on trade and business connections with each governor touting his state as the best place for Japan to do business.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was the lone governor to wade deeply into politics calling for swift adoption of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, a free trade agreement under negotiation between the United States, and 11 other nations including Japan.
Pence, a Republican and frequent critic of President Barack Obama's administration on immigration, health care and other issues, said with rising aggression in Northern Iraq, Ukraine, and other regions building strong ties between allies is more important than ever. He connected the upcoming anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States with the necessity for allies such as Japan and the United States to strengthen their own economies from within and their trade ties together.
"I submit to you that growth alone will not secure our freedom," Pence said. "We must be strong in our respective nations. As President Reagan proved peace comes through strength and conversely weakness arouses evil."
He said Japan must develop a stronger military with broader capabilities.
Since Japan's surrender at the end of World War II its constitution has prohibited aggressive military action against other nations. Confrontations with China led the Japanese government in July to redraft its constitution to allow armed forces to support other nations in battle.
Japanese Ambassador to the United States Kenichiro Sasae highlighted the importance of the U.S.-Japanese alliance in economic and military terms calling it "a cornerstone of the peace and prosperity in the Asian Pacific."
"Today with the rise of China, the North Korean nuclear issues threatening us and other issues in the region, the alliance is more important than ever," he said.
Japan wants to complete the TPP negotiations and improve trade with the U.S., he said. Japan is the second largest source of foreign direct investment in the United States and the fourth largest trading partner overall.
"We are putting up every item on the negotiating table," he said. "As a result tariffs on numerous agricultural products will be eliminated. For those products Japan cannot get to zero on, market access will be improved."
Acting Assistant United States Trade Representative Michael Beeman said the TPP is a centerpiece of President Barack Obama's trade policy. "This is, in fact, the stuff of historic proportions," he said.
Addressing Japanese trade barriers for agricultural products and U.S.-made automobiles are long-standing concerns that are front and center in the negotiations, he said.
Negotiations on the TPP were slated for completion last year but have not yet been wrapped up. In addition to the U.S. and japan, other countries negotiating the TPP are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
Japanese governors from Saitama and Yamanashi prefectures also spoke at the governor's conference.
The association was founded in 1967. Its membership includes nine Midwest states, about 100 Japanese and U.S. corporations and nearly a dozen Japanese city and state government agencies. The group meets yearly alternating between Japan and the United States.