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U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman answers to a reporter's question before meeting with Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari in Tokyo Wednesday, April 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

Japan, US struggle to bridge gaps over trade pact

– U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and a top Japanese official said Wednesday they still hope to bridge significant differences over opening markets under an ambitious pan-Pacific trade pact.

Froman and Japanese economy minister Akira Amari were meeting in Tokyo after talks earlier in the week appeared to stall. A meeting planned between Froman and Japan’s trade minister, Toshimitsu Motegi, was cancelled, according to the ministry for unspecified reasons.

“There is still a big gap. We need to mutually, I said mutually, consider how to overcome that,” Amari, who is in charge of Japan’s negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, told reporters.

Japan is one of a dozen nations participating in the U.S.-led TPP trade initiative. Talks aimed at setting a basic agreement have extended beyond a 2013 deadline, with no obvious signs the various countries will come to a consensus any time soon.

The U.S. wants Japan to open its markets wider to U.S. farm products in areas Tokyo has reserved for greater protections, such as dairy products, rice and beef. Amari said the two sides hope to forge a basic agreement before President Barack Obama visits Japan later this month.

He said Obama’s visit was not a “deadline” but a target to aim for.

Froman was also cautious.

“We have a lot of work to do,” he said.

Japan and Australia reached agreement on Monday on lifting some trade barriers, but Japanese media reports cited Froman saying that deal falls short of the requirements of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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