• Kyodo

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Japan’s minister in charge of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks said he expects “significant progress” to be made at Japan-U.S. working-level talks slated to begin Tuesday in Washington.

Tokyo and Washington should try to fill gaps “as much as possible” before a planned summit in Tokyo in April, when President Barack Obama will visit Japan and other Asian countries, Akira Amari told a news conference.

Deputy Chief Negotiator Hiroshi Oe and Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler will meet Tuesday and Wednesday, mainly to discuss tariffs Japan wants to retain on its sensitive farm products as an exception to TPP rules. Agreement on the issue is considered vital to realizing the ambitious tariff-free trade zone.

The 12 Pacific Rim countries, which also include Australia, Chile, Malaysia and New Zealand, failed to reach a deal at the last ministerial meeting held in Singapore in February, as Japan and the United States — the two biggest economies in the TPP — remained far apart over thorny issues.

The two countries have decided to continue efforts to find common ground at working-level negotiations.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, Amari’s U.S. counterpart, said recently the office of the USTR will work to strike a deal in 2014.

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