Japan, U.S. set to hold cabinet-level trade talks before summit

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 16, 2015 8:23 PM

By Tetsushi Kajimoto and Stanley White

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan and the United States look set to hold cabinet-level trade talks in coming days as the allies race to seal a bilateral trade deal, seen as crucial for a broader trans-Pacific free trade pact, ahead of a summit this month.

Economy Minister Akira Amari is to hold a news conference after 9 p.m. (8 a.m. EDT) on Friday, the government said after Kyodo News reported that U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will visit Tokyo to meet Amari on talks over the agricultural and auto sectors.

A U.S.-Japan deal is considered vital to the success of a long-delayed Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, as the two economies, the world's biggest and third-biggest, account for about 80 percent of the economic output of the 12-member TPP.

Japanese media said the ministerial talks could begin as soon as Sunday, suggesting progress at the senior working level in bilateral talks in Tokyo that ran through Friday.

"There are still issues to be solved," Agriculture Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said on Friday morning. "We will do our utmost so that a parliament resolution (to protect five agricultural products) can be seen to be kept."

Tokyo has said a bilateral deal would require that the U.S. Congress give President Barack Obama "fast track" authority to negotiate TPP, a pact that is central to his strategic shift toward Asia.

On Thursday, senior U.S. lawmakers agreed on the wording of a bill that would give them the opportunity for an up-or-down vote but not to alter a TPP agreement. Still, passage of the fast-track bill remains far from assured.

"You can say that we have just cleared one obstacle to TPP negotiations," Amari told reporters.

The bilateral trade talks have been stymied by Japan's efforts to protect politically powerful agriculture sectors such as beef, and disputes over both countries' auto markets.

Washington and Tokyo see strategic value to a broad TPP deal as forming a counterweight to rising China, which has not joined the group.

Asked about the TPP, Hong Lei, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, said there was momentum in trade liberalization in the Asia-Pacific and that China supported open regionalism.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to meet Obama in Washington on April 28 for a summit that will also focus on security issues.

(This story has been refiled to fix headline)

(Additional reporting by Ami Miyazaki and Kiyoshi Takenaka in TOKYO, Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie)