Japan's top trade negotiator sounded an optimistic note Tuesday that he could reach a deal with the United States that is essential to creating a free trade pact covering 12 countries.
A senior U.S. State Department official also said on Monday that a deal is within “grabbing distance” as the world's largest and third-largest economies race to conclude bilateral negotiations that cover trade in car parts and farm products.
Japan and the United States have been locked in negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a U.S. proposal that would connect a dozen economies by cutting trade barriers and harmonizing standards covering two-fifths of the world economy and a third of global trade.
“I recognize that some countries were worried about the lack of progress between Japan and the United States,” said Koji Tsuruoka, Japan's chief TPP negotiator.
“However, bilateral negotiations over the past few days are a sign to everyone that we are making progress. We are now in the final stage.”
A deal between Japan and the United States is considered vital to a long-delayed TPP trade pact, as their economies would account for 80 percent of the group.
The United States and Japan have narrowed differences on trade in rice and cars, Japan's Economy Minister Akira Amari said Tuesday after a marathon meeting on Monday with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.
“We haven't solved all of our problems, but we are headed in that direction,” Amari said.
Amari met Froman for two days in Tokyo to discuss details of a possible deal, adding momentum to multilateral efforts toward TPP.
The two countries will continue working-level talks to try to narrow their differences further, Amari said.
When asked if he would meet Froman again before the Japanese prime minister travels to the United States next week, Amari said he wanted to “take a break.”
A trade deal between Japan and the United States is within reach, the U.S. State Department's top diplomat for Asia, Danny Russel, said on Monday.
“We are within grabbing distance of an agreement with the Japanese,” Russel told the Council on Foreign Relations.
The comment by Russel, the State Department's assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, comes ahead of an April 28 summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.