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Japan finance ministry says won't use FTA to resolve US trade imbalance

[TOKYO] Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said on Tuesday that Japan would not enter a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States as a means to resolve the two countries' trade imbalance.

Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting, Mr Aso said it was true that the United States was running a trade deficit but said the situation was different from that of the 1980s, when trade friction strained bilateral relations.

"In the 1980s, Japan accounted for 53 per cent of US trade deficits, but the situation is totally different now," Mr Aso said. He added that his country now accounts for only 9 per cent of the US trade deficit, compared with China, which accounts for 47 per cent of the deficit.

"We won't do an FTA to deal with the issue. We agreed we are going to discuss how we should rectify the US trade deficit with Japan through our economic dialogue. There are various ways so we will consider" how to proceed, he said.

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Mr Aso's comments came a day after US President Donald Trump, during his visit to Japan, bemoaned the trade imbalance and called for "free, fair, and reciprocal" trade.

In a second round of economic talks in Washington last month, US Vice-President Mike Pence and Mr Aso, who doubles as deputy premier, failed to bridge differences on trade issues.

The two sides are at odds over how to frame future trade talks, with Tokyo pushing back against US calls to discuss a bilateral FTA.

Japan is firmly committed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact, which Mr Trump announced Washington would abandon soon after he took office. The 11 remaining nations in the TPP are edging closer to sealing a comprehensive free trade pact without the United States.