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US VP Pence pushes Abe for wide-ranging trade agreement

Desire for pact on 'goods and services' indicates growing US-Japan friction

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his official residence in Tokyo on Nov. 13.  (Photo by Uichiro Kasai)

TOKYO -- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday said Washington expects upcoming trade negotiations with Japan to result in a wide-ranging agreement, in stark contrast to Japan's playing down the significance of the talks.

"The best opportunity for free, fair and reciprocal trade will come in a bilateral trade agreement," Pence said at a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, after the two had met in Tokyo. "Negotiations will begin soon. When completed, we are confident the agreement will establish terms on goods as well as in other key areas, including services."

In September, U.S. President Donald Trump and Abe agreed to start negotiations on a trade agreement on goods, or TAG. The agreement came amid growing pressure by the Trump administration to resolve the U.S.'s trade deficit with Japan. Talks are scheduled to start in January.

Pence's remarks indicate the Trump administration intends to negotiate a wide-ranging deal. Pence complained that "the U.S has had a trade imbalance with Japan for too long," and that "American products and services too often face barriers to compete fairly in the Japanese market."

Trump has criticized Japan as unfairly shipping massive numbers of automobiles to the U.S. while blocking cars and farm products from the U.S. Japan has counter-argued that its markets are open.

On Tuesday, Abe merely said the two countries "reaffirmed expanding trade and investment between Japan and the U.S. that will benefit both sides." A Japanese official declined to comment on the details of the meeting.

The discrepancy in explanations illustrates the difference in positions, potentially casting another cloud of uncertainty over global trade. The U.S.-China trade battle has pressured global financial markets, and economic data from China and elsewhere in Asia indicate that exporters are cutting back investments.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and Japan on Tuesday agreed to boost cooperation in developing the Indo-Pacific region -- which spans two regions of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean -- as the two countries join forces to counter China's growing clout.

"The U.S. seeks collaboration, not control," Pence said, adding that "authoritarianism and aggression have no place in Indo-Pacific." Abe said the two countries will work with other nations, including Australia, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in realizing the goal of a "free and open Indo-Pacific."

The two countries agreed to cooperate in developing infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific region. Pence said the U.S. will utilize $60 billion for development projects in emerging markets, while Japan has a target of investing $10 billion in public and private projects.

Pence was visiting Tokyo as part of an Asia tour. He is also scheduled to attend a series of summits and other meetings in Singapore and Papua New Guinea.

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