Japan, U.S. to discuss TPP at working level next week

Japan and the United States will hold working-level talks connected with an envisioned Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal in Washington next week, the Japanese government said Thursday.

Japan's Deputy Chief Negotiator Hiroshi Oe and Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler will meet next Tuesday and Wednesday to try to break an impasse over outstanding thorny issues, with the main topic expected to be tariff removal, the Cabinet Office said.

At a ministerial gathering held in Singapore last month, the 12 Pacific Rim countries involved in the TPP talks failed to reach a deal, mainly due to conflicts between Japan and the United States, the two biggest economies among the negotiating members.

Akira Amari, Japan's minister in charge of the TPP, and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman met twice on the sidelines of the plenary session, but they remained far apart.

Washington is becoming increasingly frustrated at Tokyo's insistence on retaining tariffs on its sensitive farm products to protect them from an influx of inexpensive foreign products. The U.S.-led TPP aims for abolition of all tariffs.

The phase-out period for U.S. auto tariffs is also one of the sticking points.

The 12 nations missed their deadline for striking a deal by the end of 2013. Solving the Japan-U.S. spat is widely seen as the key to concluding the trade pact, but the outlook remains uncertain as both sides are under strong pressure at home not to concede.