U.S. and Japan negotiators met this week in Washington to try to hammer out unresolved market access issues in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.  However, it has been reported that the two sides failed to make any progress this week on negotiations for key agricultural items Japan wants to protect. Japan’s TPP minister Akira Amari meet all day yesterday with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and he reportedly said there were still “considerable differences” between the two sides.

Japan continues to try to protect rice, sugar, dairy, beef and pork, and wheat from major tariff reductions or elimination under TPP.  But, U.S. groups representing those agricultural products remain adamant that Japan must eliminate import tariffs.

Whether the United States will be able to push successfully for Japan to drop tariffs on these products remains uncertain,and even staunch supporters of an ambitious deal are downplaying the possibility of a “perfect,” agreement, according to a report in Politico Pro.  “To my knowledge, there’s no perfect trade deal; there’s no trade deal that has every product covered that goes to zero,” said Tami Overby, vice president for Asia, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said at a briefing on Wednesday.

It was announced this week that Japan, the world’s largest pork buyer, will lower its tariff on pork shipments from Australia via a bilateral trade agreement between the two countries.  The levy will drop to 2.2 percent from 4.3 percent within a quota that limits volume to 6,700 metric tons in the first year and rises to 16,700 within five years,  the Agriculture Ministry in Tokyo said in a statement yesterday.

Setting up a low tariff quota for Australian pork may be designed to encourage the United States to soften its negotiation stance in the TPP talks, said Tetsuhide Mikamo, a director at Marubeni Research Institute in Tokyo.  “The United States my lose some pork sales unless they reach an agreement with Japan on tariffs given Australia gets an advance under the bilateral accord.”

Last week, an agreement was reached that lowers Japan’s tariffs on beef, as well as other agricultural goods, but not nearly to a level acceptable to U.S. industry, which had some close to the negotiations worried that the agreement would undermine the ability of the United States to secure concessions from Japan.

“The goals and objectives are clearly to get as close to zero as possible; everybody understands that,” U.S. Japan Business Council President James Fatheree said at the Wednesday briefing.  “So, in a negotiation, stuff happens,  They work out.  But our expectations is that there will be signficant movement on all five areas, and I think substantially better than what was negotiated between Australia and Japan,” Fatheree said.