July 26, 2019 / 2:24 AM / 6 months ago

Japan, U.S. eyeing ministerial trade talks in Washington, D.C. on August 1: sources

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi is making preparations to meet with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington on Aug. 1 for ministerial-level trade talks, two sources familiar with the matter said.

FILE PHOTO: Japan's Minister of Economic Revitalization Toshimitsu Motegi speaks during the signing agreement ceremony for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, in Santiago, Chile March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido/File Photo

The two last held talks last month in Osaka, where Japan hosted the Group of 20 (G20) summit meeting.

The meeting will take into account any progress made at bilateral working-level talks taking place from July 24.

U.S. President Donald Trump has pressured Tokyo to speed up talks for a two-way trade deal that would open up Japan’s market for U.S. goods, particularly in areas of agriculture, and fix what he sees as a huge bilateral trade imbalance.

Japan is wary of making any concessions on political sensitive areas like agriculture and instead wants to prod the United States into cutting tariffs on auto parts.

Bilateral trade negotiations are expected to speed up ahead of an expected visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to New York in September, where he is expected to meet Trump, according to Japanese officials.

Washington and Tokyo remain far apart on trade.

Although Abe is one of Trump’s closest allies, the president has threatened to slap on 25% tariffs on car imports from Japan to smooth out what he calls an unfair trade imbalance.

Japan’s trade surplus with the United States was $67.6 billion in goods in 2018, with nearly two-thirds coming from auto exports, according to U.S. figures.

Trump’s focus is on narrowing U.S. trade deficits with other countries. Japan argues that countries should not focus narrowly on bilateral trade balances, and pay more attention on current account balances and multilateral trade flows.

Reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto; Writing by Chang-Ran Kim & Daniel Leussink; Editing by Michael Perry

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