WASHINGTON – Japan and the United States have moved closer on remaining gaps over a Pacific free trade pact and senior officials of the two countries will meet again in Tokyo, a Japanese official said Friday.
Trade officials from the two nations involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative agreed to hold what could be the last round before a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Barack Obama in Tokyo on Thursday, hoping for a breakthrough in the market access impasse.
“We still have big differences,” Akira Amari, the Japanese minister in charge of TPP negotiations, told reporters after wrapping up a three-day ministerial meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman. The talks ended Friday morning.
However, Amari said “the gaps are getting smaller” before his departure for Japan at Dulles International Airport, just outside Washington.
Sources familiar with bilateral relations said earlier that the two governments are not considering issuing a joint statement or declaration after the summit, partly due to a lack of progress in bilateral TPP negotiations.
Amari said Froman is expected to visit Japan this week together with Obama.
The Office of U.S. Trade Representative said in a statement, “The round we just completed was focused but difficult.”
The USTR said it had “worked to be as creative as possible to address Japan’s political sensitivities” while urging Japan to “make similar efforts.”
Hiroshi Oe, Japan’s deputy chief TPP negotiator, and Wendy Cutler, acting deputy U.S. trade representative, among others will begin talks in Tokyo on the remaining differences such as Japan’s tariffs on farm produce.
Amari said he has no plans at this point to meet with Froman for another round of ministerial talks on the issue before Obama’s arrival in Tokyo on Wednesday.
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.
In particular, Japan’s intention to keep tariffs on beef and pork has been a sticking point as many U.S. livestock farmers are seeking to boost exports to Japan.
The envisioned U.S.-led TPP initiative has been deadlocked due mainly to disagreements between Japan and the United States, the two largest economies in the pact.
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.
If realized, 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.