The United States and Japan held “constructive talks” regarding Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) market access focusing on agriculture, Japanese TPP Ambassador Hiroshi Oe said on Tuesday, telling reporters that the two sides found ways to narrow existing gaps.

“Of course there is progress but [we are] still far apart,” Hiroshi Oe, Japan’s deputy chief negotiator for the TPP, told reporters. “This is a joint effort we are making to find the solution.”  No concessions in this week’s talks were made, but both sides were able to achieve a deeper understanding of each other’s respective positions, he said.

Ambassador Oe said pressure is mounting from agricultural interests in bilateral market access talks with the United States, but both sides were still able to reach a new level of cooperation during this week’s meetings in Washington, D.C. The current talks were technical discussions focused on Japan’s five sensitive agricultural areas—rice, beef and pork, dairy, wheat, and sugar.  Oe brought to Washington this week experts from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to present the technical details related to the sensitive agricultural goods. He met Monday and Tuesday with acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler.

The next round of bilateral agricultural market access talks between the United States and Japan is set to take place August 4-5, in Washington. Cutler will continue bilateral meetings in Washington through the end of this week with Ambassador Takeo Mori of Japan on automotive trade issues.

The latest round of TPP negotiations, which were held in Ottawa, wrapped up on July 12.  Before that eight-day meeting began, President Obama said he hoped an initial agreement could be hammered out by the time the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum gets underway on November 10.  However, officials involved in the negotiations have said that unless the U.S-Japan negotiations are concluded by the end of August, the whole of the TPP talks will be significantly delayed as some of the participating countries intend to decide their negotiating stances after seeing the final outcome of the U.S.-Japan negotiations.

It has been reported that some key congressional Democrats have pressured President Obama to slow down on TPP negotiations, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) joined Reid in encouraging Obama to hold off on TPP until the elections were over.  After being told to put off even preliminary approval of key provisions of the pact, negotiators from all member nations decided to reconvene sometime between the U.S. election day and the APEC meeting.

Meanwhile, the European Union is hosting the sixth round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations this week in Brussels.  “Basically, we are making progress in all areas, but the negotiation will take some time,” European Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen told Vieuws, an EU media outlet.

Hansen said the trade talks are becoming more difficult “because we’ve got concrete texts on the table, so the negotiation is really intense.”  She was hopeful that the two sides will make progress this week on challenging issues, such as opening more agricultural access in the European Union.  The next step is when U.S. and EU trade officials  hold stock-taking and political meetings in the early autumn, Hansen said.