Trade officials from Japan and the United States resumed talks Tuesday on the thorny issue of tariffs on agricultural produce in the prolonged Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations.
The discussions are to prepare for bilateral ministerial negotiations on the U.S.-led TPP which a Japanese official said may start Wednesday in Washington in a last-ditch effort to make progress ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan next week.
“We’re climbing the mountain little by little” even though a big gap remains, Hiroshi Oe, Japan’s deputy chief TPP negotiator, told reporters following a meeting with Wendy Cutler, acting deputy U.S. trade representative.
The focus in the ongoing negotiations is whether the United States can accept Japan’s desire to keep tariffs on beef and pork as well as four other sensitive farm product categories as an exception under the 12-country TPP.
Based on the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting, Akira Amari, Japanese minister in charge of the TPP, and Michael Froman, U.S. trade representative, will hold talks in the U.S. capital, Oe said.
Oe said the April 24 summit between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Obama in Tokyo should not be regarded as a deadline, but that the two sides have “been holding negotiations in a more intensive manner” based on the leaders’ agreement last month to speed up bilateral TPP talks.
Japan and the United States, the two largest economies in the envisioned TPP pact, have been at odds over tariffs on farm produce and the U.S. call for more access to the Japanese automotive market by lifting nontariff barriers.
The gaps between the countries have been a stumbling block for concluding the deal.
Japan agreed with Australia, another of the 12 TPP negotiating countries, to reduce its tariffs on Australian beef in steps under a bilateral free trade pact in a summit in Tokyo earlier this month.
The other TPP negotiators are Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.