(Corrects Economics Minister's name in second paragraph)
TOKYO, April 11 The United States appears
willing to accept a big cut in Japanese tariffs on beef imports
rather than insist on scrapping the levy, the Nikkei business
daily said on Friday, as the two countries seek a trade deal
seen as vital to a broader regional pact.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Japanese
Economics Minister Akira Amari wrapped up two days of intense
talks on Thursday on the bilateral deal, a cornerstone of the
U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), with both saying
progress had been made but that big gaps remained.
"There was a bit of progress but big differences remain,"
Agriculture Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi reiterated at a news
conference on Friday.
Trade Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters that an
April 24 summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would be an important juncture for the
trade talks, but repeated Japan's stance that the meeting was
not a deadline for a deal, Kyodo news agency reported.
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.
The TPP, a 12-nation grouping that would stretch from Asia
to Latin America, is central to Obama's policy of expanding U.S.
presence in Asia and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has
touted it as a main element of his economic growth strategy.
The Nikkei said Froman appeared to have abandoned the United
States' insistence that Japan scrap its tariffs on beef, but big
gaps remained over the size of the cuts and the conditions under
which Japan could take counter-steps if imports rose.
Japan was considering lowering its beef tariff to below 10
percent but wants to be able to restore its higher levy if beef
imports increase by even a small amount, the newspaper said,
without citing sources.
The Yomiuri newspaper said Amari could visit Washington for
another round of negotiations before Obama's visit to Japan,
which is part of a four-nation Asian tour.
A senior Japanese government official told Reuters this week
that lowering farm tariffs was possible but that scrapping them
entirely - the ultimate goal of the TPP - was not.
Japan has been hoping that a basic deal clinched with
Australia, including a halving of Tokyo's tariff on frozen beef
to 19.5 percent, would put pressure on Washington to compromise
to avoid U.S. beef exporters losing out to Australian rivals.
Froman said on arrival in Japan this week that Washington
was seeking a "higher level of ambition" in any TPP deal than
the Australian-Japan agreement.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg and Elaine Lies; Editing by Richard