UPDATE 2-U.S., Japan agree on approach to Trans-Pacific Partnership talks

Fri Feb 22, 2013 6:57pm EST
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* Countries reaffirm "all goods" subject to negotiation

* Statement acknowledges Japan's "sensitivities" in agriculture

* Senior U.S. Democrat calls joint statement "worrisome"

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON, Feb 22 (Reuters) - The United States and Japan on Friday agreed on language aimed at giving Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe political cover to bring the world's third-largest economy into negotiations on a U.S.-led free trade agreement in the Asia Pacific region.

In a carefully worded statement following Abe's meeting with President Barack Obama, the two countries reaffirmed that "all goods would subject to negotiation" if Japan joins the talks with the United States and 10 other countries.

At the same time, the statement leaves open a possible outcome to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, talks where the Japan could still protect its rice sector and the United States could keep duties on Japanese autos.

"Recognizing that both countries have bilateral trade sensitivities, such as certain agricultural products for Japan and certain manufactured products for the United States, the two governments confirm that, as the final outcome will be determined during the negotiations, it is not required to make a prior commitment to unilaterally eliminate all tariffs upon joining the TPP negotiations," the statement said.

Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, called the joint statement "a big step forward" in the process of determining whether Japan will join TPP talks, which members hope to finish this year.   Continued...