The US and Japan on Tuesday launched economic talks that Vice President Mike Pence said could result in a bilateral trade deal, salvaging some of the progress made in negotiations towards the now-abandoned TPP.
"At some point in the future there may be a decision made between our nations to take what we have learned in this dialogue and commence formal negotiations for a free trade agreement," Pence said at a joint news conference with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso.
Pence's comments came as the two countries kicked off talks aimed at achieving a new economic relationship -- in line with US President Donald Trump's vow to focus on bilateral trade deals rather than multilateral ones that he says have damaged the United States.
Trump's decision to scrap the ambitious 12-nation Trans-Pacific Trade (TPP) deal championed by former president Barack Obama was a blow to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who expended substantial political capital to get the accord passed at home.
In Tokyo, there is still hope that the core of the agreement, thrashed out between the United States and Japan and intended to counterbalance China's regional economic power, can be salvaged in some form.
Pence, however, reaffirmed that there was no hope of reviving the TPP itself, which he called a "thing of the past" for the US.
Aso said the two countries had agreed to hold a second round of economic talks by the end of this year.
"I will continue having constructive talks with Mr Pence so as to deepen the win-win economic relations between Japan and the US," he said.