April 21, 2015 5:40 am JST
Deep rifts

Japan, US still divided on rice, autoparts in TPP talks

TOKYO -- Japanese and American chief negotiators for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement failed to bridge remaining gaps on rice and autoparts here Monday.

     Akira Amari, the Japanese minister in charge of TPP talks, and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman met for a second straight day in Tokyo. Even with the session running into early Tuesday morning, they failed to see eye to eye on two main bones of contention.

     "I think this will be a very difficult discussion," Amari had said before the meeting.

     "We are discussing a limited number of issues," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a television appearance Monday night. "We have already climbed nine-tenths of the mountain, but the last stretch is extremely challenging. We will make our utmost effort to reach a conclusion."

     Rice has emerged as a key issue for the two sides. The U.S. has demanded a separate 175,000-ton annual import quota for its table rice. But Japan is keen on keeping the number as low as possible and has stuck to a maximum quota of 50,000 tons a year.

     Japan is considering setting a 100,000-ton import quota for countries involved in the TPP negotiations, but its talks with the U.S. are at a standstill.

     The countries also remain divided on auto-related issues. The U.S. insists on a long phaseout of its 2.5% autoparts tariff, while Japan has called for eliminating the duty right away.

     The U.S. is apparently demanding that preferential tariffs apply only to vehicles with a high percentage of parts from TPP signatories. Japan opposes the measure.

     Japan is also considering different mechanisms for resolving auto-related trade frictions, as requested by the U.S., but the two countries were not expected to have reached a consensus.

     Japan and the U.S. account for roughly 80% of the TPP nations' economies combined. A bilateral agreement could help revitalize stalling talks toward the greater trade pact.

     If the U.S. Congress grants fast-track authority to the president as planned, chief negotiators from all 12 participating countries could meet in late May to come to terms on a framework agreement.

(Nikkei)

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