April 26, 2014 4:28 am JST

Japan, US remain at odds on TPP despite progress

TOKYO -- Talks between Japan and the U.S. over the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact ended Friday with no agreement reached, as negotiators made progress on several divisive issues but remained split on others.

     This round of talks attracted global interest because a compromise between Washington and Tokyo could give overall TPP negotiations a shot in the arm. U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delayed the release of their joint statement while the talks continued.

     In the end, no overall framework was produced, but the two sides were able to narrow the distance between them on some stubborn points of contention.

     The negotiations focused on five categories of agricultural products on which Japan wants to retain tariffs: beef and pork, rice, sugar, dairy products and wheat. These areas include 586 individual items.

     On Thursday afternoon, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman proposed to Akira Amari, Japan's minister for economic and fiscal policy, that they go through these line by line, work that was eventually left to their deputies. Hiroshi Oe, Japan's deputy chief negotiator, and acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler began talks later at around 9 p.m.

     The original plan involved working-level negotiations between Oe and Cutler until 4 a.m. Friday, at which point Froman and Amari would hold one last discussion. But the talks came to a standstill and broke up around 3:30 a.m., and the ministerial-level discussions were canceled.

     The two sides apparently made progress on lowering Japan's beef tariff, and the U.S. was inclined to accept Tokyo's demand that duties be maintained on the majority of major items in the rice, wheat and sugar categories.

     Stiffer resistance was met over Japan's pork tariff and loosening regulations on imported U.S. cars.

     Washington had previously insisted that Tokyo eliminate its levies on pork, which are higher for lower-priced meat. Japan has considered slashing the tariff on low-grade pork by three-quarters or more, but the U.S. is seeking deeper cuts.

     The U.S. also wanted Japan to allow in a certain number of American cars that do not meet the country's safety or environmental standards, and pressed it to overhaul regional auto dealership monopolies -- both measures that Tokyo strenuously opposes.

     This month alone has seen nearly 40 hours of U.S.-Japan talks, but still no agreement. The joint statement released Friday calls the latest round "a key milestone in the TPP negotiations," and added that it "will inject fresh momentum into the broader talks." Even after Obama departed, U.S. trade staffers remained in Japan to pick up where these talks left off.