Trump administration says to open trade talks with EU, UK, Japan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Trade Representative’s office told Congress on Tuesday it intends to open trade talks with the European Union, the United Kingdom and Japan.

Under fast-track rules, the United States cannot start talks with the EU, Japan and the United Kingdom until 90 days after notifying Congress.

“We will continue to expand U.S. trade and investment by negotiating trade agreements with Japan, the EU and the United Kingdom,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement.

“We are committed to concluding these negotiations with timely and substantive results for American workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses.”

The letters from Lighthizer to Congress come weeks after the United States won agreement on reworking the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada, and as the administration faces continuing trade friction with China.

The administration aims to “address both tariff and non-tariff barriers and to achieve fairer, more balanced trade” with the EU and Japan, the letters said.

Japan “is an important but still too often underperforming market for U.S. exporters of goods,” the letter said. It said the United States had a $69-billion trade deficit in goods with Japan, much of that in the auto sector.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer speaks during a meeting hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump with governors and members of Congress at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan would protect its interests, based on a joint statement issued at a Japan-U.S. summit on Sept. 26.

“It will not be an easy negotiation,” Suga told a regular news conference.

“But we would like to proceed with talks in line with our stance that we will push where necessary and defend our position where necessary, in a way that protects our national interests.”

The letter on the EU said the European Union and the United States have $1.1 trillion in annual two-way trade, “the largest and most complex” economic relationship in the world, and added that the United States has a $151.4 billion trade deficit in goods.

The letter to Congress on Britain said it planned to start talks “as soon as it is ready” after Britain exits the EU on March 29. The United States wants to develop “cutting edge obligations for emerging sectors where U.S. and U.K. innovators and entrepreneurs are most competitive.”

Representative Kevin Brady, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said, “These three economies are some of our largest and most important trading partners, but they are also markets in which U.S. farmers, manufacturers, and service providers face significant barriers.”

Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee that oversees trade issues, said, “The administration must take the time to tackle trade barriers comprehensively.”

He urged that the opportunity be used to set a high bar in areas such as labor rights, environmental protection and digital trade to benefit American workers and businesses, adding that “a quick, partial deal that only addresses some problems” should be avoided.

Last week, senators said Lighthizer informed them the administration planned to soon launch trade talks with the Philippines but the USTR on Tuesday did not notify Congress of formal plans to open talks.

In July, Lighthizer told a Senate panel the United States was “close to beginning negotiations” with the Philippines. A spokeswoman for Lighthizer did not immediately comment on why the administration was not now moving ahead.

Wyden said last week he had “very serious concerns about undertaking trade negotiations with a Philippine president who brags about a bloody drug war that has reportedly claimed 12,000 lives.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko in Tokyo; Editing by Diane Craft and Clarence Fernandez