• Kyodo

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U.S. President Donald Trump is willing to start market liberalization talks with Japan and four other Trans-Pacific Partnership members that don’t already have free trade deals with the United States, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said Wednesday.

Trump has “indicated a willingness to engage with the other TPP countries — either individually or collectively — on terms that will lead to significantly improved market outcomes,” the USTR’s annual report said.

“In 2018, the Trump administration will continue efforts to build stronger, better and fairer trading relationships with these countries,” the report said in reference to Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, New Zealand and Brunei.

The report, however, did not refer to Trump’s suggestion in recent weeks that Washington may rejoin what is now the 11-member TPP if it were a much better deal for the country. Trump pulled the United States out of the pact soon after his inauguration in January 2017.

Despite Trump’s perceived attempt to divide the 11 members, they have agreed to promote a revised version of the TPP without the United States, and the so-called TPP 11 are planning to sign the new pact on March 8 in Chile with an eye on bringing it into force next year.

The original TPP, a regional free-trade agreement Trump has blasted as costing American jobs, never took force after the U.S. exited.

While the U.S. “seeks a closer trade relationship with Japan,” Washington is committed to achieving “a fair and reciprocal trading relationship” with Tokyo, the USTR report said.

The Trump administration “seeks equal and reliable access for American exports to Japan’s markets to address chronic trade barriers, imbalances and deficits with Japan,” it said.

The annual report, delivered to Congress by USTR Robert Lighthizer, noted that the United States already has FTAs with the six other TPP members — Canada, Australia, Mexico, Chile, Peru and Singapore.

Trump’s team also pledged to address “unfair” trade barriers for American food and agricultural exports in economies such as Japan, China, India, Vietnam and the European Union. It seeks to “resolve barriers to American lamb, beef, horticultural products and processed foods to Japan,” the report said.

Japan has led the TPP 11 negotiations with an eye to the United States rejoining the initiative. The Trump administration has not held bilateral trade talks with Asian economies to the extent it wishes as many countries prefer multilateral arrangements to further regional economic integration.

Japanese officials have said there was no guarantee the U.S. would win better terms under a bilateral pact with Japan, as a multilateral framework like the TPP allows members to offset concessions made with one country through advantages gained from another.

“It would be wrong for the Trump administration to expect that it could win more market access or other concessions from Tokyo in a bilateral trade deal than what Japan compromised under the TPP,” one official said.

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