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Japan-U.S. trade dialogue to start as early as mid-June

KYODO, REUTERS

Japan and the United States are likely to hold the first round of their new dialogue on trade and investment in mid-June or later, Japan’s minister in charge of the negotiations said Tuesday.

Economic and fiscal policy minister Toshimitsu Motegi, citing the ongoing Diet session, said the government has informed the United States of when it can participate in the initial round of talks.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump agreed last week to set up the new ministerial consultations aimed at a “free, fair and reciprocal” trade deal during their summit in Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will be Motegi’s counterpart in the consultations.

The move could put Japan under direct U.S. pressure to enter talks for a bilateral free trade agreement. Japan is wary of entering such talks and wants to convince Washington to rejoin the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“We’ve told the U.S. side that the start of discussions (under the new framework) will be around mid-June or later,” Motegi told a news conference.

“We’re not thinking of signing a bilateral FTA,” he added.

Trump pulled the United States out of the TPP in early 2017 and has said he won’t consider rejoining unless conditions provided under the pact are far better than before.

Since the United States withdrew from TPP, the other 11 nations have forged ahead with their own agreement. Japan, which signed up for the pact, wants to pass relevant legislation through the Diet in the current session that runs until June 20.

Japan and the U.S. remain at loggerheads on how to frame the trade talks. Japan is opposed to a two-way trade deal for fear of coming under pressure to open up politically sensitive markets like agriculture.

But U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin kept up the heat last week, saying Washington wants a bilateral FTA.

Although Japan still hopes Trump will change his mind on the TPP, it is hedging its bets by being more open to other forms of trade deals with Washington, according to officials with knowledge of the negotiations.