US, Japan to step up pace of trade talks: Motegi

Japanese Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington on Tuesday. Mr Motegi says he will be back in the US next week for another meeting with Mr Lighthizer. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Japanese Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington on Tuesday. Mr Motegi says he will be back in the US next week for another meeting with Mr Lighthizer. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

With first round on agriculture and cars over, next session will move faster: Tokyo minister

WASHINGTON • After a long wait for the first round of trade talks between the United States and Japan, discussions will now take place at an accelerated pace to reach a deal quickly, according to Japan's chief negotiator.

The first talks focused on agriculture and cars, with digital trade set to be discussed at a later date, Japan's Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters after talks wrapped up with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington on Tuesday.

Other issues requiring more time have been put on the back burner and are likely to stay there, he added.

"From the next session onwards we will speed up discussions towards an early agreement, and will discuss digital trade at an appropriate time," Mr Motegi said.

The USTR published a statement saying the two officials had reaffirmed a shared goal of achieving "substantive results on trade" that follows on from last September's joint statement by President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

There is a lot at stake in the talks, particularly for Japan, which is desperate to avoid tariffs or quotas on car exports to the US that could heavily dent its economy.

For the US side, cracking open Japan's agricultural market and reducing its trade deficit are objectives that would appeal to Mr Trump's support base ahead of an election year next year.

The latest trade data for March, released early on Wednesday in Japan, showed the monthly US deficit with Japan rising 9.8 per cent from a year ago.

Mr Motegi said he would be back in the US next week to meet Mr Lighthizer again, adding that it would be appropriate to meet frequently if the two countries are serious about an early agreement.

"The possibility that there will be other areas raised for negotiation is very low," said Mr Motegi.

"The US side said that they don't expect to include in the negotiations areas that will take a long time. Matters that would require systemic reforms in Japan would take a very long time."

He reiterated his view that the US would not apply auto tariffs to Japan while talks were ongoing and that any currency issues do not fall under his remit.

US lawmakers, especially those representing agriculture interests, have been pressing the Trump administration to quickly wrap up a deal with Japan to counter any lost market share American farmers have been suffering over the past year as competitors such as Australia benefit from a multilateral deal spurned by the US.

In a recent hearing on Capitol Hill, Mr Lighthizer told senators that he is aware of the precarious situation farmers are in and that winning market access for agriculture products in Japan is a very high priority.

In response to questions from senators who would have preferred the US to stay in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Mr Trump's trade chief said a bilateral deal with Japan could make up for farmers' lost opportunities.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2019, with the headline 'US, Japan to step up pace of trade talks: Motegi'. Print Edition | Subscribe