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EXCLUSIVE: Japan not to negotiate first farm trade with U.S.

Tokyo, April 12 (Jiji Press) — The Japanese government does not intend to respond to possible U.S. demands to conclude a farm product deal first in the upcoming bilateral trade talks, Jiji Press learned Friday.

In the United States, farmers’ groups demand that the administration of President Donald Trump strike a deal to abolish, or reduce substantially, Japanese tariffs on their products in the trade negotiations starting in Washington on Monday, ahead of any other fields. The first-round talks are scheduled to be held for two days.

They cite deterioration in the environment for exports of their products such as pork and beef to Japan due partly to the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral free trade agreement excluding the United States coming into force at the end of last year.

On Thursday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue expressed intention to promptly strike provisional agreements in the farm sector with Japan.

“There’s no way for us to conclude an agricultural deal first,” a senior Japanese official said.

If Japan does so, it may violate World Trade Organization rules related to free trade agreements, the officials noted.

Tokyo is expected to counter with demand that the United States scrap tariffs on Japanese industrial goods, if Washington urges early opening of Japanese agricultural markets, informed sources said.

Even if the Japanese government agrees to increase U.S. farm products access to the markets, it will not allow access that goes beyond the TPP levels, the sources stressed.

Meanwhile, some U.S. trade officials think Japan will agree on prompt farm market opening to protect its automotive industry, which now fears that the Trump administration will decide to slap additional duties on Japanese car imports as early as the middle of May, people familiar with the situation said.

In September, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump agreed to start bilateral trade negotiations.

In the first-round talks, Japanese Economic Revitalization Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will discuss the scope of the talks.

Tokyo aims to focus only on tariff matters. But the Office of the USTR has spelled out 22 specific negotiation areas also including nontariff barriers in Japan’s vehicle market and currency. To conclude a farm trade deal first, the office is considering two-step negotiations.

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