Japan, U.S. report progress on trade talks, though Tokyo stands tough on rice

Sun Apr 19, 2015 10:31am EDT
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By Tetsushi Kajimoto

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan and the United States reported progress in top-level trade talks on Sunday that could pave the way for a broader trans-Pacific trade deal, although Tokyo cautioned that a bilateral accord was unlikely in time for a summit next week.

Japan's Economy Minister Akira Amari and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman both said they had made good progress in the first of two days of cabinet-level discussions.

"We exchanged opinions about areas where Japan and the U.S. will cooperate in dealing with others" in the multilateral talks, Amari told reporters. "We confirmed progress made at working-level meetings with regard to remaining issues."

Access to Japan's farm market and the U.S. car market remain obstacles to a bilateral deal between the two nations, vital to the success of a long-delayed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact. The world's biggest and third-biggest economies account for some 80 percent of the economic output of the 12-member TPP.

The ministers will meet from 9.30 a.m. on Monday (8.30 p.m. EDT on Sunday) to discuss remaining issues and "will earnestly hold discussions tomorrow about each specific item", Amari said.

Before the talks, Amari said Japan would not accept a U.S. demand to boost minimum access for its rice imports, while pressing Washington to further open the U.S. car-parts market.

He reiterated that he did not expect a deal before a summit between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Washington on April 28, but nonetheless hoped to make progress.

"Negotiations can't work if one side makes no concessions, but there are various domestic restrictions," Amari told public broadcaster NHK. "Rice, in particular, is produced across Japan, so we are carefully negotiating while feeling a domestic sense of crisis. I can promise it won't result in anything shocking."   Continued...

Japan's Economics Minister Akira Amari (R) shakes hands with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman ahead of their meeting in Tokyo April 19, 2015. REUTERS/Ataru Haruna/Pool