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Japan to cut beef, pork tariffs, expand rice access in TPP talks

[TOKYO] Japan is prepared to cut its high import tariffs on beef and pork and slightly ease tight restrictions on rice imports for US producers, in a rush to seal an ambitious Pacific trade deal, Japanese media said on Friday.

Tokyo's reported concessions come as talks accelerate with Washington to strike a bilateral deal as the core of an overdue agreement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

A bilateral agreement between the two economies, which dominate the TPP, is considered key to a deal among the 12 nations, which account for 40 per cent of the world economy. Negotiators had hoped to clinch a deal by late last year.

Japan and the United States are working toward an agreement to cut Japan's 38.5 per cent beef tariff to about 10 per cent over more than 10 years, the Nikkei newspaper said.

The daily, which did not cite any sources for its information, said top pork duties of 482 yen a kilogramme could be slashed to tens of yen under a new formula, while Japan would demand "safeguards" that would protect domestic producers if imports spiked.

Beef and pork are among the farm markets that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to protect under the TPP; the others are dairy, wheat and sugarcane.

Public broadcaster NHK said Japan was prepared to negotiate expanding "minimum access" quotas for rice, the nation's staple food, now protected by tariffs of 778 per cent for imports outside the minimum access framework.

Japanese officials were not immediately available to comment. On Tuesday, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said bilateral differences were narrowing. Also on Tuesday, US trade representative Michael Froman said a TPP deal could be reached in a "small number of months."

Senior trade officials Hiroshi Oe and Wendy Cutler are to meet from Monday in Washington.