UPDATE 3-U.S. says Japan has more work to do to join trade pact talks

Fri Mar 15, 2013 5:15pm EDT
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* U.S. welcomes Japan interest but worried talks could bog down

* Japan's auto and insurance barriers concern many lawmakers

* Current TPP countries hope to finish talks this year

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON, March 15 (Reuters) - The United States on Friday cautiously welcomed Japan's request to join negotiations on a U.S.-led Pacific free trade pact, emphasizing that Tokyo must demonstrate it is able to tackle longstanding barriers to U.S. goods.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on Friday that Japan would formally seek to join talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed free trade pact between the United States and 10 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Bringing the world's third largest economy into the negotiations would set the stage for a final agreement covering nearly 40 percent of world's economic output, making it an even more exciting prospect for U.S. exporters.

But there is also worry that the talks could bog them down if Tokyo is unwilling to deal with U.S. concerns over barriers to its auto, insurance and agricultural markets.

The Obama administration acknowledged those mixed feelings in a statement welcoming Abe's "important announcement."   Continued...