Japan, U.S. trade chiefs aim for TPP progress before Obama visit

Kyodo

Japanese and U.S. trade chiefs met Wednesday to discuss outstanding bilateral issues related to the ongoing Pacific trade talks — striving to break the stalemate in negotiations ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Tokyo in just two weeks.

Akira Amari, Japan’s minister in charge of the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will try to find common ground on how to deal with Japanese tariffs on farm goods, as well as auto trade issues.

The meeting could be the last opportunity for the two nations to make progress on the talks before a summit between Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on April 24, when both sides are hoping to reach a broad agreement on opening market access for agriculture and autos, the biggest sticking points.

Amari said Wednesday morning that the meeting will be a crucial session for Japan-U.S. negotiations that are vital to the advancement of TPP talks.

Froman, who is expected to stay in Tokyo until Thursday, told reporters they have “a lot of work to do” and expressed hopes for productive discussions.

Some trade observers are expecting progress in the U.S.-led TPP talks after Tokyo and Canberra reached a broad agreement on a bilateral free trade pact that includes tariff cuts on Australian beef and Japanese automobiles.

Froman said, however, on his arrival in Japan on Tuesday that the TPP aims to achieve a higher level of trade liberalization than the Japan-Australia deal — suggesting Washington wants Tokyo to make greater efforts to eliminate tariffs.

Japan wants to protect its tariffs on five farm product categories — rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and sugar — as an exception to the tariff cuts, while the United States has called on Japan to make more concessions, pushing for the basic TPP principle of eliminating forms of trade protection.

The TPP countries initially aimed to conclude a deal last year, but have been struggling to make progress due to Japan-U.S. bickering, among other factors.