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Japan, US Try to Reach Free Trade Pact 04/22 06:12

   Japanese and U.S. negotiators are struggling to reach a preliminary 
agreement on a free trade pact that might have served as a centerpiece for 
President Barack Obama's visit to Tokyo this week.

   TOKYO (AP) -- Japanese and U.S. negotiators are struggling to reach a 
preliminary agreement on a free trade pact that might have served as a 
centerpiece for President Barack Obama's visit to Tokyo this week.

   Japan's economy minister Akira Amari told reporters Tuesday that the two 
sides remained "at a considerable distance" over trade in farm products and 
vehicles a day before Obama arrives.

   "Depending on the rate of progress we may naturally close the gap," Amari 
said. The two sides would continue talks ahead of Obama's summit on Thursday 
with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he said.

   A Japan-U.S. agreement is seen as crucial for progress on a wider deal for 
the 12 nations involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Each country must 
strike a deal with other prospective members to conclude the pact.

   The TPP sets trade rules and is seen as a precursor to a future wide 
free-trade arrangement for the entire Pacific Rim region.

   The major sticking points between Japan and the U.S. have to do with 
removing tariffs on agricultural products such as rice, beef, dairy products 
and sugar that Japan has long protected from foreign competition, Japanese 
media reported.

   Automobiles are another hurdle. Japanese carmakers exported 4,731 vehicles 
per day to the U.S. last year, while Japan imported less than 62 per day. 
Auto-related trade accounted for nearly three-quarters of the 6.1 trillion yen 
($59.5 billion) U.S. trade deficit with Japan in the fiscal year that ended on 
March 31, according to Japanese data.

   Citing unnamed sources, Kyodo News service reported said the U.S. was asking 
Japan to set a minimum level for American automobile imports. Japan wants the 
U.S. to ease tariffs on imports of pickup trucks.

   A group of Republican lawmakers visiting Tokyo this week met with Japanese 
officials to show their support for a deal.

   "I'm pleased to hear that our negotiators along with theirs are making 
progress and all of us would say that resolution of that agreement would mean 
real job growth, real economic prosperity not only for you here in this region 
but for us in the United States," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia 
said Tuesday.

   In Japan and elsewhere, there are concerns over making politically difficult 
market-opening concessions without reassurance that Obama will have the "fast 
track" authority to get congressional approval for TPP. Critics of the plan 
have balked at granting such power for a trade deal whose contents have been 
kept largely secret as a precondition for joining.

   Even if Obama and Abe sign off on some form of agreement in Tokyo, many 
other issues remain to be resolved, said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from 
Connecticut who has lobbied others in her party to oppose so-called "Trade 
Promotion Authority" for Obama.

   "As the conventional wisdom goes, if Japan and the United States can sort 
out market access issues, agriculture, automobiles, then this massive trade 
deal can at last be concluded," DeLauro said in a conference call last week. 
"This is not really the case."


(KA)


 
 
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