WASHINGTON – U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Tuesday expressed an eagerness to strike a free trade agreement with Japan “at some point” — an arrangement that Tokyo has adamantly opposed.
“We think we got to have a free trade agreement with Japan and hopefully we get to that stage at some point,” Lighthizer said at a business forum in Washington.
He indicated that during new bilateral trade talks, the two governments will discuss Japan’s request that Washington exempt Tokyo from new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
The two governments are expected to hold the first round of ministerial talks on trade and investment — which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to launch during their meeting last month in Florida — around mid-June.
The Trump administration is “actively considering” formulating bilateral trade deals with countries in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Lighthizer.
Japan, however, has been reluctant to pursue a bilateral deal with the United States, saying the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional multilateral deal from which Trump withdrew the United States last year, is the best vehicle for the two countries.
Lighthizer repeated Trump’s view that he will consider rejoining the TPP, currently involving Japan and 10 other member nations, if the United States is able to negotiate a “substantially better” agreement.
Speaking on U.S. business news network CNBC, meanwhile, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross labeled the TPP “a flawed deal.”
“It was not particularly a pro-U.S. arrangement, in our view,” he said. “Some parts were OK, but a lot of the parts were not.”
Ross stressed that withdrawal from the TPP does not mean Trump has pulled back from Asia, but he dismissed the possibility of Washington returning to the deal in the near future.
“It’s not something that’s going to be done today or tomorrow,” he said.
In March, the remaining TPP member nations signed the renamed Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership without the U.S.
The 11 members of the renegotiated pact are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.