• Kyodo

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A number of American lawmakers have backed the idea of implementing the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement even without the participation of the United States, a veteran Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker has said.

Former Cabinet member Akira Amari, who led the Japanese negotiations on the deal, spoke to reporters following meetings Friday in Washington involving a multiparty delegation of six Diet members and U.S. legislators.

Amari did not specify which American lawmakers backed the idea. The meetings included Rep. Joaquin Castro, co-head of the congressional U.S.-Japan Caucus.

The U.S. lawmakers backing an 11-member TPP indicated that it would lead U.S. businesses to press the government to rejoin the pact, according to Amari.

Amari said the significance of the 12-nation TPP — which stipulates trade rules and reforms with the potential to level the playing field for U.S. companies in emerging economies — is not widely acknowledged in the United States.

Amari spoke as the delegation wrapped up its five-day trip. During the visit, the Diet members met with 12 House members and five senators from both the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as experts from think tanks.

On Wednesday, representatives from the 12 TPP countries, including the U.S. and Japan, will meet in Chile to seek a way forward on a possible regional trade deal.

It will be the first TPP-related meeting since President Donald Trump’s administration withdrew the United States from the pact in late January. Trump said the pact would cost the U.S. jobs and harm American manufacturing.

Now Washington is shifting its focus to signing bilateral trade agreements with other nations.

On Friday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross expressed eagerness to start negotiations with Japan at an early date for a bilateral deal, saying the U.S. considers it a “very high priority.”

The comment was taken as suggesting that the U.S. may propose such talks during a high-level economic dialogue that the two governments are planning to start in April. That dialogue will be led by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

Japan “is a major trading partner and military defense partner of the U.S.,” Ross said at a news conference after meeting with Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo in Washington. “So obviously, it would have very high priority” in the Trump administration’s trade policy.

Gen Nakatani, a former defense minister and Japanese delegation member, said the Japanese and U.S. lawmakers agreed that the two governments will strengthen coordination in curbing North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons development, as well as over China’s moves in the disputed South and East China seas.

The two sides affirmed the importance of complying with international law against any attempt to change the status quo, taking aim at Beijing’s militarization of outposts in the South China Sea, as well as its repeated intrusion into Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands. The Senkakus, in the East China Sea, are administered by Japan but claimed by Beijing and Taiwan.

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