Japan, U.S. launch TPP-linked talks on autos, key sectors

Japan and the United States launched bilateral trade negotiations Wednesday on autos and nontariff barriers in parallel with the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks Japan joined last month.

In the three-day discussions in Tokyo, the two largest economies involved in the TPP talks will discuss auto safety standards, insurance and intellectual property among other topics.

The Japanese delegates include Takeo Mori, ambassador for economic diplomacy, while the U.S. delegation is headed by Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler.

Saying she brought a "strong team" with her, Cutler told officials at the negotiation table, "We have a lot of work to do, we need to do it quickly, and we need to discuss constructively."

"We look forward to having fruitful discussions," said Mori at the start of talks.

The first round of the bilateral, parallel negotiations kicked off after Japan became the 12th member of the TPP talks on July 23 upon the completion of U.S. domestic procedures to start trade talks with Japan. Japan entered the TPP talks near the end of the 18th round, held in Malaysia.

In a related move, the U.S. Trade Representative announced Tuesday its ambassador Michael Froman will visit Japan on Aug. 19 for talks with Cabinet members on the key sectors in the TPP negotiations.

Froman and Japanese officials are expected to discuss TPP sectors in which the United States is interested such as automobiles, insurance and agricultural products before he attends ministerial talks on the U.S.-led pact in Brunei on Aug. 22 and 23.

The latest bilateral talks do not cover tariff eliminations regarding vehicles or farm products which Japan is keen to discuss in the TPP negotiations.

Sources have said the United States has suggested it is not holding bilateral tariff negotiations with Japan during the Brunei round, saying it needs to complete assessment on how tariff eliminations will affect the U.S. economy.

The two countries announced in April the parallel dialogue, saying they have completed bilateral preparatory talks for Japan's participation in the TPP talks and agreed that U.S. tariffs on Japanese automobiles would be phased out using the longest staging period for any product in the TPP talks.

The bilateral agreement was seen as Japan making a concession in order to protect its agriculture in exchange, sparking concerns that the country would be forced to make further concessions.

In an apparent response to U.S. concerns that its insurers will not be able to compete on an equal footing with Japan Post Insurance Co., a unit of the state-owned Japan Post group, Tokyo said in April it does not intend to authorize the sale of new medical insurance products by the unit for several years.

In addition, the Japan Post Group announced last month it will expand its business collaboration with American Family Life Assurance Co. (Aflac) to sharply increase sales outlets handling the U.S. insurer's cancer policies in Japan and jointly develop cancer insurance products, another move that is seen as easing the U.S. concerns.