WASHINGTON - Trade chiefs of Japan and the United States continued to seek progress Thursday in protracted negotiations over tariff exceptions to a Pacific free trade pact.
Akira Amari, Japan’s minister in charge of the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative, and Michael Froman, U.S. trade representative, discussed a full range of sticking points following their meeting Wednesday evening.
The ministerial talks were held in last-minute efforts to make headway prior to U.S. President Barack Obama’s arrival in Japan on April 23.
Details about the closed-door session have yet to be announced, but Amari and Froman are believed to have engaged in talks at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in Washington.
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.
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 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.
Success in the latest round of Amari-Froman talks will hinge on the outcome of negotiations over Japan’s tariffs on beef and pork, a main sticking point because many U.S. livestock farmers are seeking to boost exports to Japan.
Amari and Froman held intensive talks on the contentious issues last week in Tokyo but failed to make a breakthrough.
If successfully 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.