TOKYO -- Japan's economic policy minister will visit the U.S. on Saturday to seek a compromise on tariffs, without which negotiations on a cross-Pacific trade deal could remain stuck.
The Japanese side requested the meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.
"We have to hammer things out minister to minister," Japan's Akira Amari told reporters Thursday.
At issue will be import duties on sensitive goods: rice and other agricultural products for Japan, and automobiles for the U.S. The two economies are by far the biggest of the dozen at the negotiating table for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, whose aim is to end tariffs and take other steps to free up the movement of goods, people and money.
An all-around deal some had hoped to reach in December proved elusive.
"Unless (Japan and the U.S.) rough out matters before the TPP ministerial conference in Singapore starting Feb. 22, there is a danger that we will simply drift along at the meeting," Amari said.
Both sides have tender spots they want to protect. Japan has spelled out five: rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products, and sugar. The U.S. wants to maintain its import duties on Japanese autos as long as possible.
At the meeting in the U.S., Japan will propose treating domestic farm goods and American autos as exceptions to tariff elimination. Should the U.S. prove receptive, Amari will be ready to offer concessions on some farm tariffs.
Wendy Cutler, the acting deputy U.S. trade representative, is to visit Japan next week to meet with senior Japanese negotiator Hiroshi Oe and try to take the discussion further.
Japan has no guarantee of being able to move the process in the direction it likes. The U.S. has begun one-on-one negotiations with other TPP participants. It is rumored to have offered concessions on issues that matter to emerging markets in the group, such as reforms to state-owned enterprises and the length of patent protection on pharmaceuticals.
Officials in Tokyo fear that other countries will try to back Japan into a corner on tariffs at the Singapore conference, a government source says.