WASHINGTON Barriers to farm imports in Japan and Canada will be one focus of free trade talks with Pacific Rim countries this weekend, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said on Thursday.
Speaking at an agricultural conference shortly before leaving for the next round of talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Singapore, he said negotiators were keen to resolve sticking points to allow the talks to go forward.
"Concluding these ambitious negotiations will be challenging, but we have never backed down from a challenge," he told the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Outlook Forum.
Froman said getting movement from Japan, which is reluctant to allow more foreign competition in sensitive sectors such as rice, and Canada, where the United States would like more access for dairy and poultry, would be key aims in agriculture.
"At this stage, it's well known that the outstanding issues on agricultural market access revolve generally around Japan and Canada, and we are all working to try and work through those issues with those parties so that we can move the negotiations forward," Froman said.
He also played down resistance in Congress to give the White House authority to fast-track free trade deals, saying his focus was on bringing back a good TPP deal and that would help build momentum for so-called trade promotion authority.
"I think our trading partners understand that," he said.
Countries negotiating the TPP, which would cover 40 percent of the world economy, include Mexico, Chile, Peru, Australia, New Zealand and Vietnam.
(Reporting by Krista Hughes)