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By Toshio Aritake and Stephanie Cohen
Oct. 15 — U.S. and Japanese officials have narrowed negotiating gaps but have yet to settle “the most difficult areas,” chief Japanese Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiator Hiroshi Oe told reporters Oct. 15 after six days of working-level talks in Tokyo.
While Oe did not go into details, those difficult areas are widely understood to be five agricultural categories—rice, wheat and barley, beef and pork, dairy products and sugar—as well as autos and auto parts.
After ending the talks with his counterpart, deputy Acting U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler, Oe told reporters that discussions “yielded definite results; I have no doubt that gaps are narrowing.”
Oe added, however, that both sides have “mountains of work to do. We are far from saying, ‘We did it.’ We still have the most difficult areas that have yet to be resolved.”
While Cutler said U.S. officials “were encouraged” by the meetings this week she acknowledged that “the issues we face are tough, ranging from market access across the wide range of agricultural products to establishing a strong special dispute settlement mechanism for autos.”
The talks in Tokyo will lead into several more upcoming opportunities for negotiators to continue these discussions,
“These talks come at an important time” and kick-off an “intensive work period where we have the opportunity to make considerable progress,” Cutler said. “Chief negotiators will meet next week in Australia, ministers the week after, and then leaders will meet at APEC in early November,” she said, referring to the November meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, a forum for 21 Pacific Rim member countries.
The two countries are scheduled to hold another round of working-level negotiations on the sidelines of the TPP ministerial meeting Oct. 25 in Sydney, Oe said.
Cutler said U.S. negotiators also planned to hold a video conference with their Japanese counterparts later this week and are still discussing dates and venue for their next face to face meetings.
Oe is also slated to meet with Darci Vetter, USTR's chief agricultural negotiator, in Canberra, Australia, according to a readout from USTR. Cutler will be “in close contact” with Japanese Ambassador Takeo Mori on autos next week before arriving in Sydney to negotiate automotive and agriculture issues, the readout said.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a 25-minute telephone conversation with President Barack Obama, during which both sides agreed to accelerate the months-long bilateral TPP talks, according to a prime minister’s office spokesperson. Japanese news reports quoted Abe as saying that he had instructed Japanese government officials to accelerate the talks “while protecting national interests.”
Obama and Abe discussed “their shared vision for the Trans Pacific Partnership,” according to a White House summary of the conversation.
“President Obama and Prime Minister Abe agreed on the economic and strategic importance of the Trans Pacific Partnership, and the President stressed the need to be bold in order to achieve their shared vision of a more prosperous and integrated Asia-Pacific region,” the White house statement said.
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The White House summary of the Obama-Abe phone call is available at http://tinyurl.com/l8ndloc.
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