Japan, U.S. trade chiefs continue TPP talks ahead of summit

Kyodo

Trade chiefs from Japan and the United States continued negotiations on Monday that could pave the way to conclude the proposed 12-country Pacific free trade deal, seeking to resolve outstanding issues before their leaders’ summit in about a week.

The second day of negotiations will be “the most crucial stage” of the prolonged bilateral talks on a broader Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, economic and fiscal policy minister Akira Amari told reporters before meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

Amari, however, cautioned Sunday that he does not expect to resolve all remaining issues in time for a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama on April 28 in Washington, where the TPP will be one of the key items on the agenda.

During the two-day meeting, the trade chiefs are seeking to find common ground over how big an increase Japan should allow in imports of rice — one of its key agricultural products and its staple food — as well as abolition of trade barriers in the U.S. auto sector.

Washington is urging Japan to expand its imports of U.S. rice by 215,000 tons per year, more than four times what Tokyo is prepared to offer, according to negotiation sources.

But Tokyo has maintained a hard stance on protecting its agricultural sector, saying rice is the most sensitive product among five key farm goods categories it is seeking to protect under the TPP. The others are wheat, beef and pork, sugar and dairy.

They also have disagreements over immediate abolition of a 2.5 percent U.S. tariff on automotive parts, one of Japan’s main priorities in the talks.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the negotiations are expected to be “extremely tough.”

“We will do our best to negotiate difficult issues in light of our national interests,” he told a press conference.

On Sunday, Amari and Froman only identified remaining issues. They are expected to discuss them in detail on Monday.

Obama is eager to conclude the five-year-old TPP talks before the United States enters full-fledged campaign mode later this year for the 2016 presidential election.

Tokyo and Washington are hoping the 12-country chief negotiators’ meeting that starts Thursday will be followed by a plenary ministerial meeting as early as May to cut a deal.