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International relations

Trade talks with Japan should focus more on services: US industry rep

ACCJ chief calls free flow of data 'critical' for evolving digital economy

Christopher J. LaFleur, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, tells reporters that the U.S. and Japan have already covered some issues that will come up in bilateral trade talks. (Photo by Akihide Anzai)

TOKYO -- Ahead of expected trade negotiations between the U.S. and Japan, the chief of an American industry group emphasized that the talks will take into account an evolving services sector that now includes cashless payments and other digital economy systems.

"Services should very much be one of the priority sets of issues in this negotiation," said Christopher J. LaFleur, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

LaFleur was speaking on Wednesday at a news conference in Tokyo.

As the internet of things and next-generation 5G cellphone networks emerge, more services will cross borders. With some economists saying a cashless economy is upon us, LaFleur said the "free flow of data is critical" and governments should set rules and establish a business environment conducive to fair competition.

LaFleur said the U.S. and Japan have already touched on some issues while discussing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which, he noted, "also required substantial bilateral negotiations between each of the members."

U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the TPP when he first took office.

The upcoming talks can address "issues that were probably not fully covered in TPP," LaFleur said.

In September, amid increased pressure for a "fair" trade deal from Trump, Japan agreed to negotiate. Initially, the talks were expected to begin at the beginning of the year. They have since been pushed back as the Trump administration and Beijing continue to haggle over trade, intellectual property and tariffs.

Japanese government officials believe a prolonged delay may raise political tensions. Japan recently implemented two trade deals. At the end of last year, a renegotiated 11-member TPP that does not include the U.S. came into effect. In February, an Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union also took off. Both pacts lower Japanese tariffs on beef and other goods.

The developments have reportedly fueled dissatisfaction in the U.S. agriculture industry.

Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet twice in the coming months, in May and June, when they are expected to discuss trade.

But as of yet no timetable for detailed Japan-U.S. negotiations has been announced.

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