Business

Japan and U.S. aim to seal trade deal after Upper House election: Motegi

Kyodo

Economic revitalization minister Toshimitsu Motegi suggested Thursday that Japan and the United States will aim to quickly conclude negotiations for a bilateral trade deal after a House of Councilors election in the summer.

“We agreed to achieve early results after the Upper House election,” Motegi told reporters after meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington.

The comment was the first time Motegi has referred to a specific timetable for striking a bilateral trade agreement.

In a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in late May in Tokyo, U.S. President Donald Trump indicated that he would not press Japan for a bilateral trade deal until after the election, apparently taking into consideration Abe’s desire to avoid pressure on farmers to accept tariff cuts.

Motegi said he had demanded in Thursday’s talks that the United States remove tariffs on Japanese industrial products.

He added that he and Lighthizer had discussed specific items for possible tariff cuts, but declined to provide details.

“I think points of discussion that should be handled at the ministerial level have become increasingly clear,” Motegi said. “Japan and the United States have a deepened understanding of each other’s positions.”

Japanese officials have expressed readiness to reduce tariffs on American agricultural products to levels agreed to under a revised Trans-Pacific Partnership if the United States agrees to remove levies on Japanese industrial goods, including automobiles.

The Trump administration has expressed reluctance about removing the auto-related tariffs, although the president appears determined to appease American farmers with increased market access to Japan as part of his 2020 re-election bid. Japan plans to request that discussion around key farm products such as beef, pork, wheat, dairy products, rice and sugar, as well as industrial goods such as automobiles, be handled by the ministers, while leaving other items to officials, according to Japanese delegation sources.

Motegi also said that Abe and Trump are expected to focus on bilateral trade and East Asian and international issues when they meet on the margins of a Group of 20 summit in Osaka in late June. To prepare for the Abe-Trump meeting, Motegi said he plans to hold another round of talks with Lighthizer in Osaka ahead of the June 28-29 summit. “I expect both leaders to have a frank exchange of views on not only trade issues but also East Asian and international issues,” Motegi said.

“Prime Minister Abe and President Trump have briefings on how much progress the two sides have made in negotiations (toward a bilateral trade agreement), and I would expect the leaders to basically confirm such progress,” he said.

The revised TPP, formally known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, is an 11-nation regional free-trade agreement. Its enforcement last December has made American farmers and ranchers less competitive in the Japanese market than their Australian and Canadian counterparts. Trump withdrew the United States from the TPP in 2017, citing his preference for bilateral trade deals.

Japan has been calling for the elimination of U.S. tariffs on its vehicles, including a 2.5 percent levy on cars and a 25 percent duty on trucks, as had been agreed by former President Barack Obama’s administration during TPP negotiations.