Japan, US deepened understanding over trade positions, says Japan's economy minister

Japan's economy minister Toshimitsu Motegi and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer talk before a meeting at the US Trade Representative's office on April 16, 2019.
Japan's economy minister Toshimitsu Motegi and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer talk before a meeting at the US Trade Representative's office on April 16, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON/TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan and the United States deepened their understanding over each other's position on trade, Japan's economy minister said after meeting his US counterpart on Thursday (June 13), adding the two will likely meet again ahead of a Group of 20 summit later this month.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, held in Washington DC, Mr Toshimitsu Motegi said he exchanged views on trade "candidly" with US Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer, but refrained from commenting on details.

"Japan and the US have been sorting out points of discussion over trade issues, and those points are clarifying but we need to continue ministerial talks," Mr Motegi told reporters after the meeting.

"We will coordinate a meeting with USTR Lighthizer, probably in Osaka ahead of the G-20 summit late this month."

Mr Motegi said Japan and the US have already agreed to aim for an early trade deal after Japan's Upper House election, likely to be held next month.

Trade issues are seen as among key topics of debate when US President Donald Trump is expected to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, western Japan, on June 28 and 29.

Mr Trump has pressured Tokyo to speed up talks for a two-way trade deal that would open up Japan's market for US goods, particularly in areas of agriculture, and fix what he sees as a huge bilateral trade imbalance.

In an interview with the Japan Times, US Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty said Mr Trump was "frustrated" by the fact that the US and Japan have yet to seal a trade deal.

"The President would have preferred to have seen something done last year. Let me be clear... we're way behind schedule from this standpoint," he was quoted as saying in the interview conducted on Tuesday and published on Friday.

Japan's ruling party officials have signalled their hopes of holding off on signing a deal that could require concessions on agriculture at least until the summer Upper House elections, for fear of losing farmers' votes.

Responding to a journalist's question, Mr Motegi said Japan has been requesting for Washington to cut its tariffs on industrial products.

Washington wants Japan to cut tariffs on US farm products to restore their competitiveness after Mr Trump shunned an 11-nation Pacific trade pact.

Tokyo has stressed that the two countries had previously agreed that market access steps, or tariff cuts, for farm goods would not exceed those of Japan's other deals, such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership.