Aso, Lew confirm cooperation toward year-end TPP deal

Japan's Finance Minister Taro Aso said Tuesday he agreed with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew that the two countries would cooperate toward the completion of talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement by the end of the year.

"We confirmed Japan and the United States will work together to conclude the TPP negotiations by year-end," Aso said at a press conference following the meeting with Lew in Tokyo.

But Tokyo and Washington have not necessarily agreed on details of the free trade agreement.

While the U.S-led TPP calls for elimination of all tariffs, Japan has been seeking to protect its agricultural sector by retaining tariffs it levies on imports of rice, wheat, beef, pork, dairy products and sugar, as well as some other products.

Lew, on his first visit to Japan since assuming his post in February, held separate meetings later Tuesday with fiscal policy minister Akira Amari, who doubles as TPP minister, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Amari told reporters after meeting with Lew that he explained to the treasury secretary that trade in rice and certain other key farm products is extremely sensitive for Japan, and the way in which they are handled in TPP talks is a politically very important issue.

On the macroeconomic front, Aso added at the news conference that he called on Lew to dispel uncertainties over U.S. fiscal issues, saying the nation's political impasse on its budget talks, which raised concern over Washington being forced into default on its debt, significantly rattled global financial markets last month.

Lew is scheduled to travel to Singapore on Wednesday on the second leg of his five-nation Asian tour that will also take him to Malaysia, Vietnam and China, according to the U.S Treasury Department.