(Adds comment from automotive group, details on agreement)
By David Shepardson and Jeff Mason
Aug 26 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday said the United States would not imminently impose new tariffs on autos imported from Japan as the largest and third-largest economies continue negotiations to firm up a preliminary trade agreement.
At a press conference during a global summit in Biarritz, France, Trump was asked if he was still considering the levies, which he can institute under U.S. trade law if his administration finds the imports threaten national security.
“Not at this moment, no, not at this moment,” Trump said. “It’s something I could do at a later date if I wanted to but we’re not looking at that.”
Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced an agreement on the core principles of a limited trade deal on Sunday, with Tokyo making concessions on agriculture and Washington maintaining its current auto tariffs of 2.5% on passenger vehicles and 25% on pickup trucks instead of raising them as Trump has threatened to do.
Details of what was agreed have not been released.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said at the G7 summit that the deal would cut agricultural tariffs across the board and had the potential to boost annual U.S. agricultural exports to Japan by up to $7 billion from the current level of $14 billion, aiding U.S. producers of beef, pork, wheat, dairy products, wine and ethanol.
Lighthizer said it would also provide high standards for digital trade and include industrial goods.
A U.S. business official briefed on the deal said Lighthizer’s office confirmed that the “first stage” agreement would reduce tariffs on select industrial goods from Japan but would not reduce U.S. tariffs on autos or auto parts from Japan, nor address non-tariff barriers such as currency issues.
The trade group representing Detroit automakers Ford General Motors and Fiat Chrysler said the announcement was encouraging, but added that any deal needed to address the $56 billion U.S. automotive trade deficit with Japan, which makes up most of the total gap of $68 billion.
“Any potential trade agreement with Japan should lead to truly reciprocal market access for U.S. automakers,” American Automotive Policy Council president Matt Blunt said in a statement. “It must address long-standing non-tariff barriers in Japan, and include strong and enforceable provisions that prevent Japan from manipulating its currency to gain an unfair and unearned advantage for its auto exports.”
Abe and Japanese automakers and parts firms, including Toyota Motor Corp, have been working to show Trump how they have boosted investment in the United States and added thousands of American jobs.
The deal, which needs to be fleshed out in detailed negotiations over the next month, is expected to restore some of the U.S. agricultural access to the Japanese market lost when Trump pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in 2017 just after he took office.
U.S. beef and other products have been at a disadvantage to competition from Australia and Canada, which remained in TPP.
At the announcement with Abe, Trump said Japan had agreed to buy excess U.S. corn that is burdening farmers as a result of the tariff dispute between Washington and Beijing. Abe referred to a potential purchase of the corn and said it would be handled by the private sector.
Despite the lack of detail, agriculture groups, whose members have been battered by the U.S.-China trade war, welcomed news of progress.
“Farmers and ranchers needed a win, and the preliminary agreement between the U.S. and Japan comes at a critical time. With major competitors eyeing our market share in Japan, expanding access for U.S. producers is critical,” said Barbara Glenn, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. (Reporting by Jeff Mason, David Shepardson and David Lawder; Writing by Lisa Lambert and David Lawder in Washington; editing by Grant McCool, Chizu Nomiyama and Sonya Hepinstall)