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Japan, U.S. continue talks on thorny TPP issues


Japan and the United States on Monday continued their bilateral talks to solve remaining issues on the fringes of a multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade meeting being held in Singapore, after the two failed to bridge gaps the day before.

In their meeting held Monday morning, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Japanese Senior Vice Minister of the Cabinet Office Yasutoshi Nishimura likely made new efforts to meet halfway over tariffs Tokyo seeks to retain on farm products, as well as auto trade, an area in which Washington wants more concessions from Japan.

The detailed contents of the unofficial talks remain unknown.

Nishimura told reporters before attending the bilateral meeting that the 12 Pacific Rim negotiating countries are making progress in narrowing down the number of issues they face, but reiterated that the United States needs to "show flexibility."

Negotiating sources said that Japan has proposed the application of a tariff quota system, under which set quantities of imported goods in five farm product categories it regards as sensitive would be either tariff-free or subject to low duty rates.

But the United States, which seeks abolition of all tariffs, has not accepted Japan's compromise plan, the sources added.

Japan is also considering applying the quota system on the five farm product categories -- rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and sugar -- for its trade with Canada and Australia, which also want to expand their exports of farm products.

As for automobiles, Tokyo is urging Washington to scrap tariffs on Japanese vehicles at an early date, while the United States wants Japan to review auto safety standards and a taxation system advantageous to minivehicles which are proving popular in Japan.

As other contentious issues including intellectual property rights and reform of state-owned firms -- areas of disagreement between developed and developing countries -- also remain unsolved, it is now highly uncertain whether the TPP members will be able to reach a final agreement during the four-day ministerial meeting through Tuesday as pledged.