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Japan and U.S. approaching 'final stage' of trade talks, says negotiator Toshimitsu Motegi

Kyodo, Reuters, JIJI

Japan and the United States are approaching the “final stage” of talks on a bilateral trade deal, Japan’s trade negotiator Toshimitsu Motegi said Wednesday in Washington.

The economic revitalization minister started the latest round of ministerial trade talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer earlier in the day, and the negotiations are scheduled to continue for at least two days.

The two countries, still at odds over arrangements for agricultural and industrial products, hope to reach some form of agreement at a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump set to be held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session in New York in late September.

The focus of the latest meeting was whether they could iron out differences in views over tariffs in key sectors, including on beef and automobiles.

“As we are putting our national interests at stake, the negotiations are tough,” Motegi told reporters after the first day of the talks, which lasted over five hours. “But we have trust in each other, and we’ve been able to deepen our discussions,” he added.

He also said the two countries had “narrowed down the remaining agenda items,” without elaborating, and said negotiations were “gradually approaching the final stage.”

“We agreed to speed up discussions and work on the remaining issues for early results,” Motegi said.

Separate trade talks with China and Europe have made little headway, and Trump is keen to clinch an early deal with Japan that would open up its politically sensitive agriculture sector as well as curb Japan’s U.S.-bound auto exports.

Japan, on the other hand, wants the United States to cut tariffs on imports of car parts and industrial goods — something Washington is reluctant to do.

In a meeting in September last year, Trump and Abe agreed that the United States would not demand deeper farm tariff cuts than levels Japan has agreed to elsewhere, such as in the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, an 11-nation deal that entered into force the same year.

Under the revised TPP, formally known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, Japan’s 38.5 percent tariff on beef imports will be lowered in stages to 9 percent over 16 years.

Based on the results of the meeting in Washington, Abe and Trump are expected to discuss trade at a bilateral meeting expected to be held on the sidelines of a three-day Group of Seven summit in France from Saturday. Trump appears eager to claim a major trade victory to boost his 2020 re-election bid.

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