U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen wave before they board on the Air Force Two at Yokota U.S. Air Force Base in Fussa, on the outskirts of Tokyo Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen wave before they board on the Air Force Two at Yokota U.S. Air Force Base in Fussa, on the outskirts of Tokyo Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.

SEOUL - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence says a bilateral trade agreement with Japan is the best way to resolve a trade imbalance that Washington says has put U.S. products at a disadvantage.

"American products and services too often face barriers to compete fairly in Japanese markets," Pence said at a joint news conference in Tokyo Tuesday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, adding, the "best opportunity for free, fair and reciprocal trade will come in a bilateral trade agreement." He said the two nations will negotiate a trade agreement that will be a "model" for other nations.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed his preference for bilateral deals negotiated on terms more favorable to the United States. 

Trump has complained about Japan's $69 billion trade surplus with the United States and has been pressuring Abe to agree to a two-way agreement to address it. He says Japan is shipping millions of cars to North America, while at the same time, blocking imports of U.S. autos. He says trade in farm products is also lopsided.

Tokyo says its markets are open; however, Japan does protect some farm products.

Tokyo had been reluctant to commit to a bilateral free trade pact and had hoped for Washington to consider returning to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a broader regional trade agreement championed by the Obama administration as a bulwark against growing Chinese influence but that Trump pulled out of in January 2017.

Abe and Trump began trade talks in September. If a new trade agreement is finalized, it may shield Japanese automakers from export tariffs accounting for nearly two-thirds of the nation's trade surplus with the United States. 

Pence was in Tokyo on a brief stop before attending several regional summits, including the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Singapore and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum being held in Papua, New Guinea.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, second right, and
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, second right, and his wife Karen are escorted to a waiting helicopter by the U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty, right in Fussa, Japan, Nov. 12, 2018.

?North Korea

In his remarks prior to meeting with the prime minister, Pence said he looked “forward to discussions on how we can continue to work closely on advancing the goal of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Pence added, "We are grateful Mr. Prime Minister for your strong and steadfast leadership working with the United States and South Korea and nations around the world to make progress that we have made towards achieving that."

A planned meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials in New York last week was abruptly canceled. The State Department gave no reason for the delay. 

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that canceled talks between Pompeo and a senior North Korean official would likely be rescheduled and she still expects President Trump to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un early next year.

The discussions between Pence and Abe came as the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said it had identified at least 13 of an estimated 20 undeclared missile bases inside North Korea, belying a declaration by the U.S. president following the landmark summit in June with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that "there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."

The report’s author, Joseph Bermudez, told VOA North Korea’s basic missile and its nuclear threat "remains very significant and has not changed in the last ten years."

"What we found were a network of missile operating bases located throughout North Korea," said Bermudez, adding that the intent of the report was to "make sure that the public actually knows what’s out there so they can inform their policymakers to inform those who are actually involved in discussions."

Kim Eui-kyeom, a South Korean presidential official, downplayed the CSIS reports, saying there was “nothing new in the report” and that the think tank’s analysis was based on civilian satellite imagery, rather than the more detailed stills obtained by South Korea and the United States through their military satellites.

Kim went on to assert that there has not been an agreement or negotiation that required North Korea to dismantle these types of facilities. 

Pence told reporters the United States will continue to exert pressure on Pyongyang and sanctions will remain in place, until "the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea."

"The United States, Japan, and the world will accept nothing less," Pence said.

Nike Ching contributed to this report while traveling with the Vice President, Ira Mellman contributed from Washington, and Lee Ju-hyun contributed from Seoul.