* Japan, US officials meeting before Obama visit
* Talks to continue Thursday
* Japan-US deal crucial to overall regional TPP pact
* US wants tougher deal than new Japan-Australia pact
(Recasts with comment after meeting)
By Antoni Slodkowski
TOKYO, April 9 Japanese and U.S. trade officials
made progress on Wednesday in negotiations meant to spur a broad
Pacific trade pact and prepare for a visit by President Barack
Obama, but they remain apart on some major issues, both sides
"We made some progress, but we still have gaps between us,"
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told reporters after 11
hours of negotiations with Japanese Economy Minister Akira
Amari. Froman said he looked forward to more talks on Thursday.
Japan and the United States 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 Obama travels to Japan
for an April 24-25 state visit.
The tone of the cabinet-level talks appeared brighter after
recent rounds in which the two sides accused each other of
Amari said "debate has deepened considerably in some areas"
in the talks, which focus on access to Japan's agricultural
market and both countries' car markets. "But there's still
considerable distance" between the two sides, he added.
Froman said there were several issues that the parties still
disagreed on and "were working our way through them".
Despite the Obama visit looming, Froman echoed recent
remarks by Japanese officials that they are not setting any
deadlines in the bilateral talks.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has touted the TPP
framework as a key part of his growth strategy but the outlook
for a Japan-U.S. deal is cloudy as both sides accuse each other
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.
He 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
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
(Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko and Elaine Lies; Editing
by William Mallard and Robert Birsel)