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Japan, U.S. focus on farm, industrial tariff cuts in trade dialogue

WASHINGTON — Officials from Japan and the United States have discussed possible tariff cuts on agriculture and industrial products as part of a bilateral trade deal, a senior Japanese official said Tuesday after a two-day meeting in Washington.


The meeting was in preparation for talks Thursday between Japanese economic revitalization minister Toshimitsu Motegi and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in the U.S. capital.


Last month, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to speed up bilateral trade agreement negotiations.


In the working-level meeting, officials exchanged information and explained each other’s tariff rate positions on about 9,000 items such as beef and automobiles, according to senior Japanese trade official Kazuhisa Shibuya.


It was the first time since Motegi and Lighthizer launched bilateral trade negotiations in April that Japanese and U.S. working-level officials in charge of farm and industrial tariffs have held talks, Shibuya told reporters after the meeting.


“Working-level officials discussed how to fill a gap in differing positions between the two sides from professional and technical perspectives, while showing respect to each other’s positions,” Shibuya said.


“I think we had meaningful consultations for both of us.”


Japan has expressed readiness to reduce tariffs on American farm products to levels agreed to under a revised Trans-Pacific Partnership if the United States agrees to remove levies on Japanese industrial goods, including automobiles.


The Trump administration has expressed reluctance to remove auto-related tariffs, though the president appears poised to appease American farmers with increased market access to Japan as part of his 2020 re-election bid.


The enforcement last December of the revised TPP, formally known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership — an 11-nation regional free-trade agreement — has made American farmers and ranchers less competitiveness in the Japanese market than their Australian and Canadian counterparts.


Trump withdrew the United States from the TPP in 2017, citing his preference for bilateral trade deals.


However, he indicated last month that Washington would not press Tokyo for a bilateral trade deal until after Japan’s House of Councillors election in the summer, apparently taking into consideration Abe’s desire to avoid tariff-cutting pressure on farmers.


Japan has been seeking the elimination of U.S. tariffs on its vehicles, including a 2.5 percent levy on cars and a 25 percent duty on trucks, as agreed to by former President Barack Obama’s administration in the TPP.

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