• Kyodo

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A leader of a U.S. congressional group dedicated to promoting relations with Japan on Monday voiced eagerness to boost bilateral economic ties despite Washington’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal.

“Whatever happens with (a possible Japan-U.S. trade deal), we want to make sure that our economic ties remain as strong as they are now and continue to grow,” said Democrat Joaquin Castro of Texas, co-chair of the U.S.-Japan Caucus.

Castro was speaking at a reception in Washington for the caucus, a bipartisan congressional organization with more than 100 members.

“I always remind folks back home that our ties with Japan are deep and our nations represent the first- and third-largest economies in the world,” he said. “We have an incredible opportunity to continue to grow those economies and that trade relationship.”

Castro made the remarks as the two governments are reportedly considering holding the first round of a high-level bilateral economic dialogue on April 18 in Tokyo.

The dialogue, to be led by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, will cover trade and macroeconomic policy as well as infrastructure and energy projects.

Officials have not ruled out the possibility of exploring a bilateral FTA that would cover nearly 30 percent of the world economy.

Speaking at the reception, Japanese Ambassador to the United States Kenichiro Sasae said cooperation in defense is especially important at a time of increased tensions in East Asia linked to North Korea’s ballistic missile launches in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

But citing a robust Japan-U.S. alliance, Sasae said, “I’m quite confident that our alliance never gives a misleading signal to North Korea,” and that Tokyo and Washington will step up cooperation in boosting defense and deterrence capabilities.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal from the TPP soon after taking office in January, leaving Japan as the largest economy participating in the trade pact encompassing 11 Asian and Pacific Rim nations.

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