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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

United States and Japan to start talks on a 'fast track' trade deal

Toyko has been resisting the deal over fears it will damage their automotive industry

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. AFP
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. AFP

The United States and Japan have taken the first steps towards negotiating a fast-tracked free trade agreement previously resisted by Tokyo, which has been worried that any deal could damage their important automotive industry.

The two states signed a commitment to start talks after US President Donald Trump met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

"We've agreed today to start trade negotiations between the United States and Japan," Mr Trump said. "This was something that for various reasons over the years Japan was unwilling to do and now they are willing to do. So we're very happy about that, and I'm sure that we will come to a satisfactory conclusion."

Mr Trump is looking to address Japan's $69 billion trade surplus with the United States, two-thirds of which is from auto exports.

The agreement commits both countries to a "mutually beneficial trade relationship" focussing on car manufacturing in the US, and Japan's agricultural, forestry and fishing markets.

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Japan's Prime Minister has previously expressed fears the deal could lead to a reduced demand for the country's car manufacturing industry.

"For the United States, market access outcomes in the motor vehicle sector will be designed to increase production and jobs in the United States in the motor vehicle industries," the statement said.

"For Japan, with regard to agricultural, forestry, and fishery products, outcomes related to market access as reflected in Japan's previous economic partnership agreements constitute the maximum level," the agreement reads in reference to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that Mr Trump abandoned in 2017.

The US will seek a "fast track" Japan free trade agreement with congressional approval, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said. US law requires Congress to be notified 90 days before negotiations can begin.

Mr Lighthizer said he expects the talks to happen in stages, the first for an "early harvest" on reducing tariffs and other barriers to trade.

On Monday, the United States signed a free trade agreement with South Korea.