U.S., Japan discuss regional trade pact

Acting deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler, left, smiles at Japanese Foreign Ministry's Economic Affairs Bureau Deputy Director-General Takeo Mori, right, at the start of their meeting for talks on various issues related to an American-led effort to forge the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional trade bloc at the ministry in Tokyo Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013.
AP Photo/Kyodo News

TOKYO U.S. and Japanese officials are holding talks in Tokyo to overcome obstacles to Japan's ongoing participation in American-led efforts to forge a regional free trade bloc.

Acting deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler is heading the U.S. side in talks that began Wednesday on autos, insurance and non-tariff barriers to trade - sensitive issues that will require compromise if the 12 participating countries are to meet their year-end deadline for a deal.

"We very much look forward to these negotiations. We have a lot of work to do, we need to do it quickly, we need to do it constructively," Cutler said as the talks began.

The U.S. side is seeking unified standards for automotive and environmental safety and deregulation in insurance and investment. The talks are also expected to include discussion of royalties and conditions for bidding on public works projects.

"Japan and the United States have agreed to work together to further enhance economic growth," said Takeo Mori, an economy and diplomatic envoy who heads the Japanese delegation, told the U.S. side. "We look forward to fruitful discussions in the coming three days."

The two sides agreed earlier to begin negotiations on the issues as part of Japan's membership in formal Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Japan's entry into the negotiations took effect July 23.

The Japan-US talks are being held parallel to the main trade pact negotiations.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is defying strong opposition to the trade deal from some of his conservative Liberal Democratic Party's traditional bastions of support, such as farmers.

The lure for Japan is greater access to the American and other key markets, especially in fast-growing Asia. Including Japan, the dozen countries participating account for about 40 percent of world trade.

Critics of Japan's trade policies view the talks as a renewed opportunity for foreigners to try to open its markets wider in key areas such as autos, through reforms of taxes, vehicle certification procedures and safety and pollution standards.

The U.S. had a $76 billion trade deficit with Japan last year, second only to that with China. Trade in autos accounted for two-thirds of the deficit.