December 21, 2018 / 11:55 PM / a month ago

White House unveils goals for Japan trade talks

FILE PHOTO: A laborer works in a container area at a port in Tokyo, Japan July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Friday laid out objectives for trade talks with Japan, setting the clock for them to begin as early as Jan. 20, as the administration seeks to slash the United States’ $69 billion trade deficit with the world’s third-biggest economy.

According to the document, the United States is aiming to secure duty-free market access for American industrial products and reduce or eliminate tariffs for U.S. agricultural goods. It may want to negotiate the deal in stages.

Washington is also seeking more equitable trade in the motor vehicle sector and will try to “ensure that Japan avoids manipulating exchange rates in order to prevent effective balance of payments adjustment or to gain an unfair competitive advantage,” the document said.

October comments by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin alluding to such a provision sparked concern in Japan that it might give Washington the right to label as currency manipulation any future foreign exchange market interventions by Tokyo.

At a hearing this month on U.S. negotiating objectives for the trade talks, the United Auto Workers union called on the Trump administration to demand strict quotas on Japanese vehicles and parts, with any increases based on the growth of U.S. automotive exports to Japan.

In a statement, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said he supported opening markets for U.S. goods, but criticized the objectives, saying they lacked detail and contained a “completely inadequate” approach to trade enforcement.

U.S. President Donald Trump has roiled international markets by embroiling China in a trade war, forcing Canada and Mexico to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement, and pulling the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership early last year.

Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Editing by James Dalgleish

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