| TOKYO, April 27
TOKYO, April 27 Japan and the United States have
found "common ground" to forge a two-way trade deal, but may
not be able to resolve remaining sticking points in time for a
mid-May meeting of top negotiators seeking a broad regional
deal, a senior Japanese official said.
Marathon talks during U.S. President Barack Obama's state
visit to Tokyo last week yielded progress - hailed by the two
sides as a "key milestone" - but the two sides stopped short of
announcing a deal vital to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),
a 12-nation bloc that would extend from Asia to Latin America.
The upbeat tone, however, was a contrast to the emphasis on
"gaps" after previous rounds of talks on a bilateral deal that
has been stalemated by differences over access to Japan's
agriculture market and both countries' car markets.
"What Obama's visit produced after many lengthy negotiations
was a common ground on which the two sides believe we can
continue to work to find a mutually acceptable solution," the
senior Japanese official told Reuters. He declined to be
identified because of the sensitivity of the talks.
"We no longer have to worry that the lack of a Japan-U.S.
pathway is going to block negotiations with other countries.
This is a very important landmark Obama was able to produce," he
said. But he added he was "not optimistic" that Washington and
Tokyo could work out remaining issues "in a month or two".
Negotiators from the 12 TPP countries are to meet in Vietnam
in mid-May, followed by a gathering of Asia-Pacific trade
ministers in China on May 17-18. Obama and Abe will likely meet
next at an Asia-Pacific summit in China in November.
Both Obama and Abe have domestic constituencies keen to see
their leaders stick to rival stances: a U.S. demand that Japan
scrap all tariffs and Japan's pledge to protect politically
powerful farmers in five sectors including rice, beef and pork.
Yet both leaders are keen for a deal - Obama because TPP is
central to his "pivot" of military, diplomatic and economic
resources to Asia and Abe because he has touted the trade deal
as a key element of reforms needed to generate economic growth.
Japan's Yomiuri newspaper reported over the weekend that the
two sides had in fact reached a "basic agreement" in last week's
talks, but that Tokyo wanted to avoid announcing it for fear of
hurting the ruling party's prospects in a Sunday by-election for
a seat in parliament's lower house.
Obama faces opposition from a wary Congress and farm good
exporters worried that Washington will settle for "TPP-Lite".
Commenting on the Yomiuri report, the Japanese official said
both sides had offered significant compromises, with the United
States dropping insistence on scrapping all tariffs and Tokyo
offering bolder market access improvements than previously.
But he said no deal would be reached until all elements were
"Nobody is dreaming that we have concluded everything," he
"All professional trade negotiators know that unless
everything is agreed, everything is open," he said, adding
stakeholders in both countries had to be brought on board.
Among the issues yet to be thrashed out are the period of
time over which tariffs will be reduced and what sort of steps
Japan can take to soften the blow on farmers.
"There are a lot of uncertainties we need to resolve, either
technically or politically," the Japanese official said.
Both sides expressed optimism that progress on a U.S.-Japan
deal will breathe momentum into the push for a regional pact
covering 40 percent of the world economy and creating a
rule-based framework that could entice Asian giant China to
The Japanese official echoed that view but said there was no
timetable set for when exhausted U.S. and Japanese negotiators
would meet, nor could he predict when a long-delayed broader
deal would be reached.
"That part is not in sight right now," he said.
(Additional reporting by Krista Hughes in Washington; Editing
by Kim Coghill)