WASHINGTON The United States said on Wednesday it was still considering whether to support Japan's bid to join talks on a trans-Pacific regional free trade agreement, three months after Tokyo announced interest in the negotiations.
"Both governments agreed to continue the consultative process, with additional meetings to be arranged at a later date," the office of the U.S. Trade Representative said in a statement after two days of talks with Japanese officials.
"The meeting was an opportunity for the United States to continue the assessment of Japan's readiness" to make significant market-opening reforms, USTR said.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced Tokyo's interest in joining talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) back on November 11, prior to joining President Barack Obama in Honolulu for a meeting of Asia Pacific leaders.
The two sides had senior level talks earlier this month and followed that with technical level talks this week.
Detroit-based U.S. auto manufacturers have objected to Japan joining the TPP negotiations, saying they do not believe Tokyo is prepared at this time to dismantle "non-tariff" barriers that they blame for low U.S. auto sales in Japan.
Japan, whose tariff on U.S. autos is already zero, says Detroit's claims are exaggerated and the real problem is that the automakers do not make cars suited to the Japanese market.
U.S. trade officials have said the decision on whether Japan will be allowed into the negotiations will be made in consultation with the eight other countries currently involved in the TPP talks - Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Chile and Peru.
Those countries set a goal in November of finishing the TPP talks this year.
Canada and Mexico have also asked to join the negotiations and are awaiting a decision as well.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Eric Walsh)