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Japan holds out for multilateral trade approach with U.S. in new talks

Japan holds out for multilateral trade approach with U.S. in new talks
Japanese Minister of Economic Revitalization Toshimitsu Motegi attends a news conference on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Ministerial Meeting during APEC 2017 in Da Nang, Vietnam, November 11, 2017. REUTERS/Kham   -   Copyright  Nguyen Huy Kham(Reuters)
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By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top U.S. and Japanese trade officials said they better understood each other’s positions after talks on Thursday, while Tokyo appeared to stick to its position of avoiding a bilateral free-trade agreement.

“We had a frank exchange of views and deepened mutual understanding,” Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters after several hours of meetings with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, which he said would continue on Friday.

However, Motegi reiterated Japan’s view that multilateral talks, which Washington has abandoned, were the best way to address trade issues. Tokyo wants to avoid a bilateral free-trade agreement – which Lighthizer called for in the past – where it could come under pressure over access to its auto and agricultural markets.

“Ambassador Lighthizer and Minister Motegi had a thorough and constructive exchange of views on all bilateral trade issues,” Lighthizer’s office said. “They understand each other’s conditions for further discussions and plan to move forward with additional talks.”

President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, calling it a bad deal and saying he preferred bilateral talks.

Thursday’s talks launched a round of what the two sides call “free, fair and reciprocal” negotiations. They fall within broader bilateral economic discussions led by Vice President Mike Pence and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso.

Motegi said Japan and the United States agreed they want to achieve results quickly. He declined to give details of the first day’s discussions, telling reporters he would “say what I can after the first round of talks end”.

Trump’s threats to impose higher tariffs on auto imports, including those from Japan, raised concerns such a step would harm both economies.

(Reporting by David Lawder in WASHINGTON; Writing by Kaori Kaneko in TOKYO; Editing by William Mallard and Paul Tait)

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