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USTR calls for prioritizing deal with Japan on farm tariff cuts

WASHINGTON — U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Tuesday called for prioritizing a deal with Japan on agricultural tariff cuts as part of efforts to strike a bilateral trade agreement.


“What I have proposed doing is to try to take care of a couple of the issues, particularly agriculture, early…We don’t want to wait the length of time for an entire negotiation,” Lighthizer said at a congressional hearing.


“Beyond that, we want to negotiate across the board with the Japanese,” he said.


Japanese officials have suggested they would reduce tariffs on American agricultural 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.


U.S. President Donald Trump appears determined to appease American farmers with increased market access to Japan as part of his 2020 re-election bid. But his administration has expressed reluctance about removing auto-related tariffs.


The administration has grown concerned that the recent enforcement of the revised TPP — an 11-member free trade agreement including farming nations such as Australia and Canada — as well as an FTA between Japan and the European Union have put American farmers and ranchers at a disadvantage in the Japanese market.


“We’re treated worse than we were before relative to our strongest competition, and that’s an unacceptable situation from the United States’ point of view,” Lighthizer told the Senate Finance Committee.


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


In reference to the revised TPP, which has lowered tariffs on farm and other products among its 11 members, Lighthizer said, “The biggest single issue that’s troubling to me on that front in the short run particularly is the hit to our farmers.”


The USTR said he hopes to reach a trade deal with Japan that covers agriculture “in the next few months.”


“I think that we are making headway and we are in a situation where if we don’t make headway quickly, people will lose customers and never get that market share back,” Lighthizer said.


“The Japanese are fully engaged, they fully understand what needs to be done,” he said. “We’ve been quite clear about it and my hope is that we are just in the next few months, we’ll have an agreement on.”


Last week, Japanese economic revitalization minister Toshimitsu Motegi suggested the two governments will aim for a swift conclusion of trade agreement negotiations after a House of Councillors election in the summer.


Lighthizer said he and Motegi are planning to have another round of talks on the margins of a Group of 20 summit on June 28 and 29 in Osaka, western Japan, apparently to prepare for a meeting between Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

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