WASHINGTON – Japan and the United States are still “in stalemate” over key items holding up the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, Tokyo’s TPP minister, Akira Amari, said Thursday during the latest round of ministerial talks.
Amari told reporters that he and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will meet again Friday in Washington, but there are “fairly big” gaps over thorny issues such as Japan’s tariff exceptions for some agricultural produce.
Amari did not comment on whether he thought the two governments could make a breakthrough in the impasse before the summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Barack Obama in Tokyo on April 24.
“We have yet to be able to break the stalemate,” Amari told reporters after the second day of talks with Froman. “We cannot make headway on key items.
“It seems difficult to make progress on the central part (of the negotiations)” and make progress on what he and Froman discussed in Tokyo last week, Amari said.
Froman told reporters after Thursday’s talks, “It’s been tough negotiations and we are working to see whether we can find a landing zone.”
Amari said he and Froman plan to hold the third and last day of their talks on Friday before he leaves the U.S. capital for home.
Japan and the United States have been at loggerheads over Japan’s tariffs on five agricultural produce categories — rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and sugar — and U.S. calls for more access to the Japanese auto industry.
The envisioned U.S.-led TPP initiative has been held up by disagreements between Japan and the U.S., the two largest economies in the pact.
Success in the latest round of Amari-Froman talks will hinge on the negotiations on Japan’s tariffs on beef and pork. Many U.S. livestock farmers want to boost exports to Japan.
Before the start of Thursday’s session, Amari said Obama showed signs of flexibility on the thorny farm produce issue when he held a summit with Abe in The Hague last month.
According to Amari, Abe told Obama he will not be able to make “any political decision that could deal a devastating blow to the Japanese agricultural industry.”
Obama then told Abe that is not a kind of decision the United States wants Japan to make, according to Amari.
Japanese negotiation sources said earlier that the United States has showed flexibility on some points and is set to allow Japan to keep tariffs on rice and wheat.
The TPP — which also involves Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam — would account for around 40 percent of global gross domestic product and one third of all world trade if the pact gets off the ground.