WASHINGTON – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence does not plan to open discussions on specific industry sectors such as agriculture and automobiles when he and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso hold the inaugural session of a bilateral economic dialogue on Tuesday in Tokyo, according to a senior White House official.
Pence’s goal “is really to establish a bilateral framework” for future discussions on economic and trade issues with Japan, the official told reporters in previewing Pence’s four-nation Asian tour, which also includes stops in South Korea, Indonesia and Australia.
“This is going to stay very high level, anticipating just identifying the framework in the areas in which we’ll go forward,” the official said. “But I don’t think it’s going to get into specific industry level at this time.”
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has repeatedly accused Japan of maintaining nontariff barriers in its automobile market while criticizing high import tariffs for foreign farm products, raising speculation that Pence may call for a further opening of Japan’s auto and farm markets in the new dialogue.
The White House official indicated the United States will seek to forge what Trump says will be a “balanced and fair” trade deal with Japan, possibly a bilateral free trade agreement, which would cover nearly 30 percent of the world economy.
“The president has made very clear that we are looking for free, balanced and fair trade with all of our allies and partners,” the official said.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has expressed eagerness to start negotiations with Japan at an early date for a Japan-U.S. FTA, saying the United States considers it a “very high priority.”
Foreign policy experts, however, said the launch of bilateral FTA talks during Pence’s Japan trip is unlikely, partly because Senate confirmation of Robert Lighthizer as U.S. trade representative is still pending.
Besides, Japanese officials have been cautious about a Japan-U.S. FTA because it could prompt the Trump administration to step up market-opening pressure on Tokyo, especially in the politically sensitive agriculture and auto sectors.
The U.S. sees economic relations with Japan as increasingly important, especially after Trump pulled Washington out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in late January.
“We have a longtime relationship with Japan,” the White House official said. “It is the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region, and so we’re going to work together in the mutual interests of both.”
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