U.S. urged Japan to refer to bilateral FTA in joint statement: sources

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Japan Times | 15 February 2017

U.S. urged Japan to refer to bilateral FTA in joint statement: sources

In drafting a joint statement for release after the summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday, Washington urged Tokyo to refer to signing a bilateral free trade agreement, sources close to the matter said.

As Japan showed reluctance, the joint statement was actually released with the phrase, “discussions between the United States and Japan on a bilateral framework.” The statement stopped short of a pledge on a possible bilateral free trade agreement, the sources said Tuesday.

It is the first time a specific demand by the Trump administration surfaced regarding a bilateral trade pact, which has recently been debated as a possibility since the United States withdrew from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal last month.

At the time, Trump said he prefers bilateral trade deals to multilateral pacts like the TPP. Although chances for enforcement of the current form of the TPP are slim, Abe has been strongly pushing for it.

Japanese officials told reporters that Trump “made no concrete requests regarding an FTA” following the first official summit between Abe and Trump in Washington.

Analysts say a bilateral pact may bring tougher demands from the United States compared with multilateral negotiations.

It is uncertain how far the government can go to protect its agricultural sector if bilateral economic talks with the United States develop into trade negotiations for a free trade agreement.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who doubles as finance minister, are set to oversee a bilateral economic dialogue that Abe and Trump agreed on.

In a Diet panel meeting on Tuesday, Abe did not rule out negotiating a bilateral agreement with the United States.

“I’m not afraid of an FTA,” Abe said. “It will be good if it contributes to national interests. If it does not, it’s clear Japan will not proceed with negotiations.”

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source: Japan Times