WASHINGTON – Japan and the United States failed to make progress on resolving their Trans-Pacific Partnership differences in ministerial talks Saturday as the thorny farm produce and auto trade issues kept the trade pact in limbo.
Both will “continue to work” on narrowing the gaps ahead of a plenary meeting in Singapore, TPP minister Akira Amari told reporters after meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman in Washington.
Amari said talks with the United States on the TPP had been “deadlocked” since top officials from both governments met on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month.
“We shared a view on how to narrow down our differences,” Amari said, after being asked what the main progress made in the talks with Froman was.
Amari said both agreed on the importance of bridging gaps over the issue of market access, including agricultural products and rules in the TPP framework.
The USTR said in a statement that Froman and Amari “noted that differences remain, particularly in the negotiations on automotive trade.”
The ministers “instructed their teams to continue this work next week in Singapore and Tokyo,” the statement said.
The talks between the two biggest economies in the envisioned TPP pact came before the first ministerial gathering for the TPP members in the Southeast Asian country since they missed the primary deadline for concluding a pact at the end of last year.
Japan has said it will retain tariffs on five “sacred” farm product categories — rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and sugar — as an exceptional measure in the free trade framework to protect domestic farmers.
But the U.S. has urged Japan to drop the demand, a sticking point in TPP negotiations since Japan joined the U.S. and 10 other countries in the framework last year.
On automotive trade, the U.S. has asked Tokyo to address nontariff barriers such as regulations and called for more access to the Japanese auto market.
U.S. tariffs on Japanese automobiles are another issue over which Japan and the United States have long been at odds.
The United States has promised to lift its tariffs on Japanese motor vehicles eventually under the TPP but stopped short of saying when.
Aside from the tariff elimination, TPP negotiators from the 12 countries have been working on reaching agreements on several fields such as intellectual property, government procurement and environment.