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Japan's minister for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations told U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Tuesday that the United States needs to recognize the importance to Japan of retaining tariffs it levies on key agricultural products.
Akira Amari told reporters he explained to Lew in their meeting in Tokyo that protecting certain key products including rice from an inflow of cheap foreign products has been "a critical issue" for Tokyo, but Washington "does not seem to be fully aware of that."
TPP minister Amari added that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has been facing difficulties in dealing with this issue amid the domestic agriculture industry's fierce opposition to concessions on the sensitive products.
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.
Though Tokyo and Washington have not necessarily agreed on details of the free trade pact, the two sides agreed to work more closely with each other to conclude the TPP talks by year-end, and there has been some progress in other areas of discussion, Amari told reporters.
During the meeting, Lew urged Japan to make efforts on certain issues, Amari said.
Lew, on his first visit to Japan since assuming his post in February, held separate meetings Tuesday with Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso.
On the macroeconomic front, Aso said at the outset of his meeting with Lew that Japan hopes the United States will dispel uncertainties over U.S. fiscal issues.
Aso said at the news conference later Tuesday he told Lew that the United States should be aware that its political impasse on its budget-reduction talks raised concern Washington may be forced into default on its debt, rattling global financial markets last month.
The White House and Congress have to continue talks on the budget matter, as legislation stipulates that the debt ceiling was raised, but the U.S. government can borrow only until Feb. 7 and a temporary budget will only fund government operations until Jan. 15.
Lew and Aso, meanwhile, agreed that recovery in the U.S. and Japanese economies will benefit global economic growth, and confirmed that the two countries would commit to an agreement made by Group of 20 economies this year that they will not target foreign exchange rates for competitive purposes, a Japanese government official said.
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.
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