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Japan, US agree to promote trade, details hinge on Abe-Trump summit

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (L) and Japanese economic minister Toshimitsu Motegi (Kyodo)

NEW YORK (Kyodo) -- Japan and the United States broadly agreed Tuesday to promote bilateral trade as President Donald Trump has been raising pressure to reduce U.S. trade deficits and calling for a "reciprocal" relationship.

During high-level talks, which preceded Wednesday's summit between Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in New York, Tokyo urged Washington to freeze the planned additional tariff on auto imports, while U.S. officials apparently called for launching negotiations for a bilateral free trade deal.

"We shared a basic view on measures, or you may call it a scheme or something, to promote trade," Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan's economic revitalization minister, told reporters after meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

The two countries are on "a good course" to resolving bilateral challenges in trade, Motegi said, while adding that details will be announced after Abe and Trump reach an agreement. "At the summit tomorrow, we hope to produce a good outcome."

Japan has been alarmed by the U.S. push for a bilateral free trade agreement and further access to the auto and agriculture markets.

Japan may enter negotiations on a bilateral deal on condition that the United States holds off on imposing additional tariffs on the Japanese auto sector, according to sources close to the matter.

Trump has taken issue with the massive U.S. trade deficit with Japan and is aiming to correct the imbalance.

For Japan, securing an exemption from higher tariffs on cars and auto parts imposed by the United States is vital as the auto industry is integral to Japan's manufacturing and economy.

"If the two countries did not have any issues to be resolved, no talks would be needed," Motegi said, adding that details still need to be worked out before the summit.

Abe said Sunday he had a "very constructive" discussion on bilateral trade and investment with Trump over dinner, adding that the issue will be raised at the forthcoming summit.

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