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Japan, U.S. resume working-level TPP talks before Obama visit


Japan and the United States resumed their bilateral working-level talks related to a Pacific free trade deal Monday in Tokyo, with the aim of breaking a deadlock over removal of Japanese tariffs on key farm products that has been a major sticking point.

The talks between Hiroshi Oe, Japan's deputy chief negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and his counterpart Wendy Cutler, acting deputy U.S. trade representative, come after they met in Washington in late March and as the two parties try to accelerate negotiations before President Barack Obama's visit to Tokyo only two weeks away.

A summit between Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on April 24 in Tokyo is widely seen as an opportunity to narrow gaps over contentious TPP issues and advance toward concluding a deal.

Japan-U.S. TPP talks have been stuck on the issue of how to deal with Japanese tariffs on farm products in five categories -- rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and sugar -- that Tokyo wants to protect. Based on the principle of abolishing all tariffs, Washington has been calling for more flexibility from Tokyo over the issue.

Japan's TPP minister Akira Amari has said he will meet with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman after the working-level talks advance. Government sources have said an Amari-Froman meeting may take place as early as this week.

During the working-level negotiations, Tokyo and Washington are also expected to discuss auto trade issues.