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U.S. urged Japan to refer to bilateral FTA in joint statement

In drafting a joint statement for release after the summit
between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald
Trump on Friday, Washington had urged Tokyo to refer to signing a
bilateral free trade agreement, sources close to bilateral ties said
Tuesday.

As Japan showed reluctance, the joint statement was actually
released with the phrase, "discussions between the United States and
Japan on a bilateral framework," stopping short of the two countries'
pledge to aim to conclude a bilateral free trade agreement, as
initially requested by the U.S. government, the sources said.

It is the first time a specific demand by the Trump
administration surfaced regarding a bilateral free trade pact, which
has been recently debated as a possibility since the United States
withdrew from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal last
month.

At the time, Trump said he prefers bilateral trade deals to
multilateral pacts like the TPP. Although chances for enforcement of
the current form of TPP are slim, Abe has been strongly pushing for
it.

Japanese officials told reporters that Trump "made no concrete
requests regarding an FTA" following the first official summit
between Abe and Trump in Washington.

Analysts predict that, compared with trade negotiations
involving multiple nations, Japan may find itself facing tougher
demands from the United States in bilateral talks.

It is uncertain how far Japan can protect its agricultural
sector if the bilateral economic talks with the United States develop
into trade negotiations for concluding a free trade agreement.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Deputy Prime Minister Taro
Aso, who doubles as finance minister, are set to oversee a bilateral
economic dialogue that Abe and Trump agreed to set up to promote
discussions on ways to expand trade and investment.

In a Diet panel meeting on Tuesday, Abe did not rule out
negotiating a bilateral free trade agreement with the United States,
saying, "I'm not afraid of an FTA. It will be good if it contributes
to national interests. If it does not, it's clear Japan will not
proceed with negotiations (on such a pact)." (Feb. 14)