Japan and the United States remain apart over tariff reductions as the 12 member countries of the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership pact prepare for a crucial ministerial meeting later this month.
The meeting is crucial to whether the 12 will be able to conclude the broad trade agreement, TPP Minister Akira Amari said. Tokyo has been putting an emphasis on bilateral negotiations with Washington to pave the way for progress in the broader TPP talks.
Amari admitted Friday the two allies remain at odds over Japan’s tariffs on five “sacred” farm product categories, including rice. The U.S. is pushing for full removal.
“The gap between the two countries has narrowed in some parts, but not in other parts,” Amari said.
Trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi and farm minister Yoshimasa Hayashi held separate talks with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 25.
Afterward, Japanese acting chief TPP negotiator Hiroshi Oe visited the United States to meet with Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler.
The two sides exchanged frank views about background factors to deepen their understanding of each other’s positions, a Japanese government official said.
Of the five farm categories, the U.S. has shown signs of being flexible on giving exceptional treatment to rice, officials familiar with the negotiations said. But it is still talking tough on the four other categories, including pork and beef, the officials said.
The United States and emerging economies also remain far apart over areas such as state-owned enterprises, the environment and labor, the officials said.
In addition, Congress is divided over the Trade Promotion Authority bill, which is considered important for accelerating the TPP talks because the legislation allows the president to negotiate trade agreements more efficiently.
The 12 member countries are considering starting the ministerial meeting in Singapore on Feb. 22 and holding a meeting of top negotiators there from Feb. 17.
There has been no dramatic change in the situation surrounding the TPP talks, though negotiators have a sense of crisis over the lack of progress, people familiar with the matter said.