TOKYO -- American and Japanese trade negotiators have reaffirmed plans to initially discuss goods at upcoming formal talks in keeping with a previous commitment, it was learned Thursday.
Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan's point man for trade negotiations with Washington, saw eye to eye with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on the matter in a mid-December call. This apparently marked the first time the two had spoken by phone since late September.
The two sides came to terms in September on launching discussions toward a trade agreement on goods, or TAG. The new negotiating framework was affirmed in a joint statement issued after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump met in New York.
But a divide remains on what topics to bring up at the TAG talks, expected as soon as early 2019. Tokyo plans to center them around tariffs on goods. But Washington seeks to include a wide spectrum of services, like those involving the financial, telecommunications and pharmaceutical sectors. Japan is looking at service items, such as simplifying customs procedures, that both sides can agree on rather quickly.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative released Dec. 21 a summary of negotiating objectives touching on 22 specific areas. The list includes not only services, but also intellectual property and investment.
"The United States and Japan also intend to have negotiations on other trade and investment items following the completion of" TAG and other negotiations, the joint statement from September reads. Motegi and Lighthizer agreed to stick to the terms spelled out in the joint statement when the talks begin, according to a source close to the Japanese government.
There have been calls in the U.S. for Japan to relax restrictions on foreign investment in the financial and telecom industries, as well as overhaul a drug-pricing system viewed as disadvantageous to American companies. Those topics will be discussed after the two sides negotiate on goods.
But Washington's position could shift with Trump's. Motegi and Lighthizer will talk again early next year to formally decide negotiating topics.