SINGAPORE – Japan and the United States still need to bridge gaps on controversial issues in the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks, a Japanese senior vice minister said after meeting with the U.S. trade representative on Sunday.
On the sidelines of the 12-country TPP meeting being held in Singapore, Yasutoshi Nishimura and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman likely discussed issues including how to deal with Japanese tariffs on key farm products that Tokyo is seeking to protect.
Japan is facing tough negotiations in tariff-cutting talks, one of the most contentious fields, as the United States and the other TPP countries are putting strong pressure on Tokyo to open up its agricultural sector.
Nishimura said he told Froman during the bilateral meeting that the United States “needs to show more flexibility,” adding they are planning to meet again during the four-day ministerial meeting through Tuesday.
A U.S. spokeswoman said “there was a frank discussion” but “there are still big gaps on certain issues, particularly autos and agriculture.”
Nishimura also held bilateral meetings with his Singaporean and Australian counterparts Sunday.
The gathering is expected to be the last chance for the member countries to achieve their goal of concluding a deal by the end of December.
However, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo suggested that it is unlikely the 12 countries will reach “an entire agreement” during the four days of talks.
The ministers are aiming to reach a “balanced agreement” even if they cannot conclude the whole negotiations, he told Kyodo News.
Other members such as Malaysia, which have been in conflict with others in the fields of intellectual property and reforms of state-owned firms, have also suggested that the group may not be able to conclude a deal at the meeting.
Nishimura, who is attending the meeting in place of Akira Amari, Japan’s minister in charge of TPP negotiations, is also expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Singapore later Sunday.
Amari missed the crucial session after he was diagnosed with tongue cancer earlier this month.
The TPP countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.