TOKYO, April 9 Japan and the United States on
Wednesday began a round of crucial talks aimed at concluding a
trade pact seen as critical to the success of regional
negotiations, although officials warned that bridging
differences would be difficult.
Tokyo and Washington are seeking a two-way trade deal,
regarded as a key part of the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership
(TPP) that is the centrepiece of Washington's push to increase
its Asian presence, before U.S. President Barack Obama visits
Japan later this month.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has touted the
multilateral framework as an key part of his growth strategy but
the outlook for a Japan-U.S. deal is cloudy as both sides accuse
each other of inflexibility.
"I think if there is good will on both sides we can make
progress on bridging our differences," U.S. Trade Representative
Michael Froman told reporters before a day of talks with
officials including Economy Minister Akira Amari.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Abe confirmed a
basic trade agreement on Monday, overcoming sticking points on
beef and autos that had threatened to stymie a deal, and agreed
to work towards signing it as soon as possible.
"Clearly we are looking for a level of ambition in TPP that
is significantly higher than that," Froman told reporters on
Tuesday upon arriving in Japan.
Froman told U.S. lawmakers last week that Japan's reluctance
to lower trade barriers was holding up agreement on the TPP, a
12-nation grouping that would stretch from Asia to Latin
America. Japanese officials say Washington needs to be more
flexible on its side.
The United States wants Japan to open its rice, beef and
pork, dairy and sugar sectors - politically powerful sectors
that Abe has vowed to defend. Japan wants a timetable on U.S.
promises to drop tariffs of 2.5 percent on imports of passenger
cars and 25 percent on light trucks.
Abe called for flexibility and said he hoped that both
parties would end up feeling that they were in a mutually
beneficial situation, as with the Japan-Australia agreement.
"I think we can say Japan and the United States are dominant
among parties participating in TPP talks in terms of economy,"
he told Japanese television on Tuesday.
"If Japan and the United States fail to reach an agreement,
TPP could collapse ... The important thing is that it would be
pointless if Japan and the United States remained unyielding and
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing
by Chris Gallagher)