• AFP-Jiji, Kyodo

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Japanese and U.S. officials held top-level trade talks in Tokyo on Monday after Washington said it was ready to discuss reducing steel and aluminum tariffs imposed under former president Donald Trump.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo have made the Japanese capital the first stop on their separate trips to several countries in Asia.

Raimondo held talks with Japan’s trade minister Koichi Hagiuda, with the pair stressing the importance of cooperation between the world’s top and third-largest economies.

“The relationship between the United States and Japan is critically important… for shared economic values and that’s why this is my first step in the region,” Raimondo said in brief comments.

She called for cooperation in a range of fields, including semiconductors and supply chains, as chip shortages and production issues hamper the developed world’s pandemic economic recovery.

Raimondo did not refer to discussions about steel and aluminum tariffs, but a senior official from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) confirmed both sides “agreed to start talks.”

“It is a valuable opportunity to discuss the future of Japan-U.S. cooperation. Through today’s discussions I hope we can further expand the cooperative relations between the two countries,” Hagiuda said at the outset of the meeting.

Trade and industry minister Koichi Hagiuda and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo hold talks in Tokyo on Monday. | KYODO
Trade and industry minister Koichi Hagiuda and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo hold talks in Tokyo on Monday. | KYODO

Washington said Friday it was ready to discuss reducing the tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum that were imposed by the Trump administration in 2018 on several economies, including the European Union and Japan.

“(The) details will come later,” said Hiroyuki Hatada, senior METI official in charge of U.S. trade.

“If tariffs are lifted, that will be a perfect solution for Japan.”

The deal made with the EU does not go that far, instead allowing limited quantities of European steel and aluminum products to be imported by the United States without tariffs.

Japan and the United States are among the world’s top steel producers, ranked behind China, the EU and India, according to data from the World Steel Association.

In a joint statement, Raimondo and Hagiuda said they had agreed to establish a commercial and industrial partnership to work on areas including supply chains for semiconductors, 5G telecommunications and other key industries.

They also pledged to address “market-distorting measures to counter unfair trade practices”, in a likely reference to China, which Washington has accused of threatening the U.S. steel and aluminum industries.

“The United States and Japan will seek to resolve bilateral concerns in this area (of steel and aluminum),” the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said Friday in a statement.

The start of talks on the steel issue with Japan will “present an opportunity to promote high standards, address shared concerns, including climate change, and hold countries like China that support trade-distorting non-market policies and practices to account,” the USTR statement said.

Among other issues expected to be on the table between Japan and the United States in the coming months are how to build a stronger semiconductor supply chain and how to cooperate to improve international logistics.

In her first trip to Asia since assuming the post, Raimondo will make a two-day visit to Singapore from Tuesday and travel to Malaysia on Thursday.

The trip comes on the heels of U.S. President Joe Biden’s announcement that his administration will develop what he calls an “economic framework that will define our shared objectives with partners in the region.”

After Tokyo, Tai, also on her first Asian trip since taking her position, will be in South Korea and India.

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