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 U.S. counterpart on Thursday, adding the two will likely meet again ahead of a G20 summit later this month.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, held in Washington D.C., Toshimitsu Motegi said he exchanged views on trade “candidly” with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, but refrained from commenting on details.
“Japan and the U.S. have been sorting out points of discussion over trade issues and those points are clarifying but we need to continue ministerial talks,” Motegi told reporters after the meeting.
“We will coordinate a meeting with USTR Lighthizer, probably in Osaka ahead of G20 summit late this month.”
Motegi said Japan and the United States 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 U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the summit of Group of 20 major economies in Osaka, western Japan, on June 28-29.
Trump has pressured Tokyo to speed up talks for a two-way trade deal that would open up Japan’s market for U.S. goods, particularly in areas of agriculture, and fix what he sees as a huge bilateral trade imbalance.
In an interview with the Japan Times, U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty said Trump was “frustrated” by the fact that the United States 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 signaled 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, Motegi said Japan has been requesting for Washington to cut its tariffs on industrial products.
Washington wants Japan to cut tariffs on U.S. farm products to restore their competitiveness after Trump shunned an 11-nation Pacific trade pact.
Tokyo has stressed the two countries had agreed in a September deal that market access steps, or tariff cuts, for farm goods would not exceed those of Japan’s other deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Reporting by David Lawder in Washington, writing by Kaori Kaneko and Leika Kihara in Tokyo; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore & Shri Navaratnam