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Trump to delay Japan trade deal until country's July polls

The US is threatening to raise vehicle tariffs and seeking more access to Japan's agricultural market

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US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a dinner in Tokyo on Sunday.

Tokyo

PRESIDENT Donald Trump said the US is making "great progress" in trade negotiations with Japan even though a deal could come only after the latter's elections in July.

"Agriculture and beef heavily in play" in the talks, Trump tweeted after spending about 2 1/2 hours golfing with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "Much will wait until after their July elections where I anticipate big numbers!" The president arrived in Japan on Saturday for a four-day visit. The US is threatening to raise vehicle tariffs and seeking more access to Japan's agricultural market. The two countries won't reach a trade deal before Mr Trump and Mr Abe meet on Monday, Japan Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on Saturday following talks with his US counterpart.

Japan is expected to head to the polls for the upper house in July, and many have predicted that the government will take the opportunity to dissolve the more powerful lower house and hold a general election.

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"The US President will wait until after the July elections in the House of Councillors (Japanese equivalent of the Senate) before really pushing for a deal," John Roberts, chief White House correspondent at Fox News tweeted earlier citing a call from Mr Trump.

The two countries still had differences and agreed to work to close the gaps, Mr Motegi said after nearly three hours of discussions with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Saturday in Tokyo.

They didn't discuss contentious issues such as US threats to restrict Japanese car exports and applying a currency clause, Mr Motegi said. "We agreed to work to get a deal done quickly." Japan this month lifted longstanding restrictions on some US beef, allowing products from all cattle to enter the Asian nation for the first time since 2003. Japan banned US beef after a case of mad cow disease was found in Washington state in December 2003 and restored partial access two years later while prohibiting products from older animals.

US beef was on the lunch menu after Mr Trump and Mr Abe's game of golf on Sunday, in the form of a double cheeseburger, according to Japan's foreign ministry. It was the fifth time the two had played together, and they "deepened their friendship amid a cozy atmosphere", the ministry said in a statement.

Mr Trump this month declared that imported cars represented a threat to US national security but announced a six-month delay in imposing new tariffs on imported vehicles and parts from Japan and other nations in order to pursue negotiations. He wants to cut the US trade deficit with Japan.

At a dinner with Japanese business leaders on Saturday, Mr Trump sought out one who had recently criticised the US leader.

Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp, was among Japan's top executives who met Mr Trump soon after he arrived in Japan. Earlier this month, Mr Toyoda rebuked Mr Trump's declaration that imported cars and components threaten US national security, saying it sent a message to Toyota that its decades of investment in the US isn't welcomed.

In pre-dinner remarks at the US ambassador's residence in Tokyo, Mr Trump asked "where's Toyota?" "There's nothing like the boss," Mr Trump said after people pointed out Mr Toyoda in the crowd. "I thought that was you."

Later on Sunday, Mr Trump presented a trophy to the winner of a sumo tournament, turning to personal diplomacy for the second day of a Japan visit shadowed by tough trade talk.

The two leaders with wives Melania and Akie, watched giant sumo wrestlers grapple on the final day of a 15-day tournament won by rising Japanese star Asanoyama.

Mr Trump, the first US president to watch sumo in the sport's homeland, waved to the audience as he entered the hallowed Kokugikan and then saluted them with applause as they waved and raised their phones to take photos.

Arriving just in time for Asanoyama's bout, Mr Trump nodded as Mr Abe gestured in explanation, later watching as the three final wrestlers, wearing only traditional loincloths, lifted their legs high and stamped them to the ground in a ritual entrance.

The two couples used armchairs instead of sitting cross-legged on the "zabuton" cushions traditional for close ringside seats.

Mr Trump, using a special set of wooden stairs fitted to the sumo ring, presented the 25-year-old Asanoyama with the President's Cup, a trophy topped with a bald eagle, the US national bird.

"In honour of your outstanding achievement as Sumo Grand Champion, I hereby award you the United States President's Cup," Mr Trump said, reading from a prize certificate.

Security was tight, with fans forced to pass through metal detectors. The traditional throwing of cushions to mark an exciting round was prohibited. BLOOMBERG, REUTERS