WASHINGTON – Japan and the United States agreed Monday to focus mainly on tariffs on goods such as agricultural and industrial products as they started negotiations for a bilateral trade agreement, according to economic revitalization minister Toshimitsu Motegi.
Speaking to reporters after the first day of a two-day meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington, Motegi signaled his opposition to the potential inclusion of a currency provision in any trade deal. He said currency matters should be handled by the respective finance ministers.
Motegi said he and Lighthizer affirmed they will conduct negotiations in line with an agreement struck between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump last September.
The agreement said the two governments “will enter into negotiations … for a Japan-United States trade agreement on goods, as well as on other key areas including services, that can produce early achievements.”
During three hours of talks Monday, Motegi said he mainly discussed goods trade with Lighthizer, and that he also discussed how negotiations could progress.
“I think we have come to see some priority areas for discussions going forward through our talks today,” Motegi said, without elaborating.
A statement issued by Abe and Trump last Sept. 26 indicated Washington would not demand deeper farm tariff cuts than levels Japan has agreed in other trade pacts such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership — the regional free trade agreement from which Trump withdrew the United States in 2017 — and its FTA with the European Union.
The first round of Japan-U.S. trade negotiations came as American agriculture lobbies have stepped up calls on the Trump administration to take swift measures to increase access to the Japanese market.
A revised TPP — an 11-member FTA including Japan and farming nations such as Australia and Canada — as well as a Japan-EU FTA have put American farmers and ranchers at a disadvantage.
While Japan has said the two governments aim for a trade agreement on goods only, the United States has called for a comprehensive pact that would cover a range of areas such as goods, services, investment and currency.
Motegi and Lighthizer will continue talks Tuesday in an effort to determine the scope of their future negotiations.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Saturday that any agreement with Japan would include a requirement to refrain from manipulating currencies to gain an advantage in international trade.
In a summary of negotiating objectives for bilateral talks with Japan, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said in December that the Trump administration would push for reducing or eliminating tariffs on U.S. agricultural imports, and to address nontariff barriers in the automobile sector.
The U.S. will also seek to include trade in services such as telecommunications and financial services in a trade deal.
Trump regards automobiles as a symbol of the trade imbalance with Tokyo, because automobiles and auto parts accounted for about 75 percent of the U.S. deficit with Japan as of 2017.