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U.S. farm chief seeks quick deal on tariff cuts with Japan

WASHINGTON — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Thursday sought a “very quick agreement” with Japan on tariff cuts for agricultural goods as part of efforts to reach a bilateral trade deal.


“I hope we can come to a very quick agreement with Japan over maybe some temporary ag provisions and hash out the many other issues that take longer in this area,” Perdue told reporters ahead of a first round of talks next week on what the United States says will be a bilateral free trade agreement.


The remark indicates that President Donald Trump’s administration hopes to pursue a deal in stages, leaving services and other sectors for later negotiations.


The Trump administration has grown concerned that the recent enforcement of a revised Trans-Pacific Partnership — an 11-member FTA including Japan and Australia — and an FTA between Japan and the European Union have put American farmers and ranchers at a disadvantage in the Japanese market.


U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer “understands the criticality with implementation of the TPP and the other 11 countries, he understands that our producers will be at a disadvantage,” Perdue said.


According to Japanese government data, the nation’s beef imports from Australia, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand — four members of what is formally called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership — jumped more than 50 percent in January from a year earlier after the pact took effect on Dec. 30.


The Trump administration withdrew the United States from the TPP in 2017, given its preference for bilateral trade deals.


In the first round of talks slated for Monday and Tuesday in Washington, Lighthizer and Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s economic revitalization minister, plan to discuss the scope of their future negotiations.


While the United States is calling for a comprehensive pact that would cover a range of areas such as goods, services, investment and currency, Japan is insisting the two governments aim for a trade agreement on goods only.


Motegi said in Tokyo that Perdue’s proposal of negotiating tariff cuts for farm products first is “in line with a Japan-U.S. joint statement” issued in September, in which the two countries agreed to start trade negotiations.


The first trade talks will be followed by a planned meeting between Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on April 26 in Washington.

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