Japan-U.S. trade talks likely to be held April 15-16: source

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

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan and the United States are likely to hold their first round of trade talks in Washington on April 15-16, a Japanese government source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.

Japanese Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters earlier on Tuesday he would travel to the United States as early as this month to start negotiations with his counterpart U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

U.S. President Donald Trump has made clear he is unhappy with Japan’s $69 billion trade surplus with the United States - nearly two-thirds of it from auto exports - and wants a two-way agreement to address it.

Trade frictions between Tokyo and Washington have been present since Trump took office in 2017 with a pledge to renegotiate trade deals he considers unfair to U.S. companies and workers.

The Trump administration is also engaged in ongoing trade talks with both the European Union and China as part of the Republican president’s “America First” agenda.

Japanese government officials are increasingly worried that Trump will demand a reduction in the number of Japanese auto imports to lower the trade deficit.

They are also concerned that Trump could impose steep import tariffs on autos and auto parts, which would deal a big blow to the export-reliant economy.

Abe may meet President Donald Trump in the United States in late April for talks on North Korea and Japan-U.S. trade.

Trump is expected to make a decision some time in May about whether to unleash steep tariffs on imported cars and auto parts after he commissioned a report from the U.S. Commerce Department to determine the effects of imports on national security.

Reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto; Writing by Stanley White; Editing by Sam Holmes