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[NEW YORK] Acting Deputy US Trade Representative Wendy Cutler said on Monday that "significant gaps" in the trade negotiations remain between the United States and Japan regarding access for US automobiles in the Japanese market.
"Japan has zero tariffs on autos and trucks, and yet access to the Japanese automotive market is limited. There is an array of non-tariff barriers in Japan that have effectively closed the Japanese auto market to US producers," Mr Cutler said in prepared remarks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations delivered at the Japan Society in New York. "And as a result, when Japan joined the (TPP) negotiation, we asked and Japan agreed to launching a separate bilateral parallel negotiation on automotive non-tarrif measure issues. And on these issues we are making good progress, but we have more work to do," Mr Cutler said.
A Japanese negotiating team spent the prior week in Washington, working on the issue.
The US and Japan are part of a 12-nation TPP negotiation that is expected to wrap up by mid-year.
Mr Cutler, whose remarks were interrupted twice by hecklers protesting the TPP, also said a second critical sticking point in bilateral trade talks with Japan is access for US agricultural products.
In 2014, the US trade deficit with Japan totaled nearly US$67 billion, according to the US Department of Commerce, down 8.7 per cent from 2013.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is scheduled to address a joint meeting of the US Senate and House of Representatives on April 29, becoming the first Japanese leader to do so while on a state visit next month.
The TPP is a key part of the US "pivot" to Asia and progress toward a deal has been touted as a key part of Abe's visit. "We are now working intensively with the Japanese to make as much progress as possible before the prime minister comes to the United States," Mr Cutler said.
Delays in finalizing US legislation to speed free trade deals through Congress is also proving to be a snag in moving forward on trade talks.
The trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation allows US lawmakers to set objectives for trade deals in exchange for a yes-or-no vote.
Senate Committee on Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Republican, and the panel's top Democrat, Ron Wyden, are at odds over Wyden's push for Congress to have a greater role in deciding whether final deals pass muster, which may help win over Democrats who are skeptical of the trade deal.