U.S. urged to soften stance on farm tariffs

Kyodo

Akira Amari, the minister for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, told U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Tuesday that Washington needs to recognize the importance to Tokyo of retaining tariffs on key agricultural products.

Amari told reporters he explained to Lew in their meeting in Tokyo that protecting certain key products, including rice, from an inflow of cheap foreign products has been “a critical issue” in Japan, but the U.S. “does not seem to be fully aware of that.”

Amari added that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration has been facing difficulties in dealing with this issue amid the domestic agriculture industry’s fierce opposition to concessions on sensitive products.

While the U.S.-led TPP calls for elimination of all tariffs, Japan has been seeking to protect its agricultural sector by retaining tariffs on imports of rice, wheat, beef, pork, dairy products and sugar, as well as some other products.

Though Tokyo and Washington have not necessarily agreed on details of the free trade pact, the two sides agreed to work more closely with each other to conclude the TPP talks by the end of the year, and there has been some progress in other areas of discussion, Amari told reporters.

During the meeting, Lew urged Japan to make efforts on certain issues, Amari said.

Lew, on his first visit to Japan since assuming his post in February, held separate meetings Tuesday with Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso.

On the macroeconomic front, Aso said at the outset of his meeting with Lew that Japan hopes the United States will dispel uncertainties over U.S. fiscal issues.

At the news conference, Aso said he told Lew that the United States should realize its political impasse on its budget-reduction talks raised concern that Washington may be forced into default on its debt, rattling global financial markets last month.

The White House and Congress have to continue talks on the budget as the U.S. government can borrow only until Feb. 7 and a temporary budget will only fund government operations until Jan. 15.

Lew and Aso meanwhile agreed that recovery in the U.S. and Japanese economies will benefit global growth, and confirmed that the two countries will commit to an agreement made by Group of 20 economies this year that they will not target foreign exchange rates for competitive purposes, a Japanese official said.

Lew was scheduled to travel to Singapore on Wednesday on the second leg of his five-nation Asian tour that will also take him to Malaysia, Vietnam and China, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.