TOKYO (AP) — Japanese and U.S. negotiators are struggling to reach a preliminary agreement on a free trade pact that might have served as a centerpiece for President Barack Obama's visit to Tokyo this week.
Japan's economy minister Akira Amari told reporters Tuesday that the two sides remained "at a considerable distance" over trade in farm products and vehicles a day before Obama arrives.
"Depending on the rate of progress we may naturally close the gap," Amari said. The two sides would continue talks ahead of Obama's summit on Thursday with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he said.
A Japan-U.S. agreement is seen as crucial for progress on a wider deal for the 12 nations involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Each country must strike a deal with other prospective members to conclude the pact.
The TPP sets trade rules and is seen as a precursor to a future wide free-trade arrangement for the entire Pacific Rim region.
The major sticking points between Japan and the U.S. have to do with removing tariffs on agricultural products such as rice, beef, dairy products and sugar that Japan has long protected from foreign competition, Japanese media reported.
Automobiles are another hurdle. Japanese carmakers exported 4,731 vehicles per day to the U.S. last year, while Japan imported less than 62 per day. Auto-related trade accounted for nearly three-quarters of the 6.1 trillion yen ($59.5 billion) U.S. trade deficit with Japan in the fiscal year that ended on March 31, according to Japanese data.
Citing unnamed sources, Kyodo News service reported said the U.S. was asking Japan to set a minimum level for American automobile imports. Japan wants the U.S. to ease tariffs on imports of pickup trucks.