Japan has held bilateral negotiations on elimination of tariffs with the United States and Australia during the ongoing 19th round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks in Brunei, negotiation sources said Tuesday.
The two major farming countries had previously been expected to hold off on talks with Japan until after the current round, as the United States has not finished assessing the impact of eliminating tariffs on Japanese products and Australia is scheduled to hold a general election on Sept. 7.
The negotiations were held by Sunday at the strong request of Japan, which only joined the TPP talks at the tail end of the Malaysia round last month, with countries seeking to concluded a deal by year-end.
Japan faces strong domestic pressure to retain tariffs it levies on rice and other key farm products to protect them from a possible influx of cheap imports. But it also hopes to eliminate tariffs other countries imposes on goods manufactured in Japan.
As U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said Friday that the United States expects to table its tariff offer for Japan in mid-September, the latest bilateral talks are likely to have been limited to how to proceed with the negotiations from September and fixing a starting point for negotiations on the percentage of tariff-free items.
Australia is also believed to have refrained from proposing a list of items for eliminating tariffs ahead of the election that could bring about a change in government.