WASHINGTON -- Even as Japanese and American officials affirm cooperation toward concluding talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, substantial differences remain between the two sides.
Representatives of the 12 countries involved in the TPP negotiations are slated to meet in Singapore starting Feb. 22. Japan's minister of state for economic and fiscal policy, Akira Amari, met with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman for two and a half hours here Saturday afternoon in preparation for the overall talks.
Japan is trying to maintain tariffs on some farming products, while the U.S. still refuses to open up its automobile market.
"We have not reached anything concrete for an agreement," Amari conceded after the meeting.
Amari said the bilateral talks on tariff issues are only at the "50-60% level to the summit," using mountain climbing as an analogy.
Japan is trying to protect 586 items under five categories of farm products. But Amari said that "it'll be difficult to protect all of them," suggesting that some compromises will be inevitable. He added that if the U.S. shows a willingness to compromise, Japan "will respond with flexibility."
Japan's deputy chief TPP negotiator, Hiroshi Oe, and Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler will continue the talks from Monday in Tokyo ahead of the ministerial-level meeting in Singapore.
The U.S. and Japan are the largest economies in the TPP talks. Should the bilateral negotiations stall, the overall talks could be thrown off track.