• Kyodo, Reuters


Economic and fiscal policy minister Akira Amari and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman on Sunday kicked off two days of talks to advance negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement before the U.S.-Japan summit on April 28.

The trade chiefs will try to bridge their differences over Japan’s agriculture market and trade barriers to the U.S. auto sector but do not expect to settle all outstanding issues before the bilateral negotiations conclude on Monday, Amari said before the talks began.

On Sunday, Amari repeated his determination to protect the farm sector, saying Japan would not give in to U.S. demands just because there is a leaders’ summit in nine days.

U.S. President Barack Obama will hold a summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Washington, where sealing the TPP free trade pact will be one of the top items on the agenda.

While Japan’s farm market and the U.S. auto sector remain obstacles to a bilateral deal, they are also vital to the success of the long-delayed TPP pact. The two countries account for 80 percent of the economic output generated by the 12-member TPP.

On Sunday, economy minister Akira Amari said Japan would not accept a U.S. demand to boost minimum access over rice imports.

Staking out Japan’s position, Amari told a talk show on Sunday that Tokyo would not accept Washington’s demands for access for American rice producers, and pressed the U.S. to further open its car-parts market.

“Negotiations can’t work if one side makes no concessions, but there are various domestic restrictions,” Amari told NHK. “Rice, in particular, is produced across Japan, so we are carefully negotiating while feeling a domestic sense of crisis. I can promise it won’t result in anything shocking.”

Japan, whose imports of foreign autos are relatively low, is prepared to offer an import quota for U.S. rice of 50,000 tons a year, just a quarter of the U.S. demand, the Nikkei newspaper reported Saturday.

“We will not swallow the U.S. demand or (a figure) close to it,” Amari said, but added a breakthrough could yet be made on bilateral car trade.

Japan has sought immediate abolition of a 2.5 percent tariff on U.S. imports of auto parts, but Washington, under pressure from the politically powerful auto industry, wants to maintain such tariffs as long as possible, the Nikkei reported.

Amari reiterated he did not expect a deal before a bilateral summit April 28 in Washington, but hoped to make enough progress prior to Obama and Abe’s meeting.

Prospects for a bilateral deal improved Thursday, when senior U.S. lawmakers agreed on the wording of a bill to give Congress a yes-or-no vote on the TPP although not the power to alter a deal. But passage of the fast-track authority bill, which Japan says is essential, remains far from assured.

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