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U.S. to brief Pacific trade partners on Japan talks

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman arrives for a meeting with Japan's Economics Minister Akira Amari in Tokyo April 10, 2014. REUTERS/
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman arrives for a meeting with Japan's Economics Minister Akira Amari in Tokyo April 10, 2014. REUTERS/

By Axel Threlfall and Leigh Thomas

PARIS (Reuters) - Briefing Pacific trading partners on progress in U.S.-Japan trade talks is an important step in moving discussions on a 12-nation trade bloc to the next level, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said on Wednesday.

The United States and Japan said after a leaders' summit last month they had found a path forward on access to Japan's farm and auto markets but gave no details of what was agreed.

The stalemate between the two countries, the biggest economies in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has held up progress on the wider trade agreement in recent months as other countries waited to see the outcome of the negotiations.

TPP negotiators, from countries including Canada, Australia, Mexico and Malaysia, will meet in Vietnam next week.

"We'll be briefing them on our discussions with Japan and they'll have their own discussions with Japan," Froman said in an interview with Reuters Insider television on the sidelines of talks with other trade ministers in Paris. "And that will be an important part of entering the next phase of the negotiations."

Other trade partners are keen to see those details. Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb said very little information had been shared so far about the U.S.-Japan outcome.

"It would be sensible for (Japan and the United States) to conclude their negotiations on market access," he told reporters.

"Then other countries, with greater certainty, would start to enter into real negotiations with both the U.S. and Japan. I don't think we're quite there yet."

Australia is particularly keen to get more access to the U.S. sugar market, after failing to win a higher tariff-free quota in a bilateral deal.

But Republican Charles Boustany, whose state of Louisiana is a key sugar-cane-growing region, said higher quotas were not an option under the TPP, given state subsidies for big producers such as Brazil and India.

"With the construct of these agreements, sugar is not on the table," he told a U.S. Chamber of Commerce seminar on agricultural trade in Washington.

Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler said TPP ministers would next meet in Singapore on May 19 and 20, following a meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade ministers in China.

"I do believe that all the TPP partners understand that we are on the cusp of something historic on TPP and we are all committed to getting the negotiations concluded as soon as possible with the understanding that remaining issues won't get easier to solve over time," she told the seminar.

U.S. and Japanese officials have declined to confirm reports that the United States might allow Japan to keep tariffs on some products, such as rice, in exchange for lowering the tariff on U.S. beef imports to below 10 percent.

(Additional reporting and writing by Krista Hughes in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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