Top US trade officials visit Japan, agree to start tariff talks

·2-min read
US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo (L) held talks with Japan's trade minister Koichi Haguida (AFP/Koji Sasahara)

Japanese and US officials held top-level trade talks in Tokyo on Monday after Washington said it was ready to discuss reducing steel and aluminium tariffs imposed under former president Donald Trump.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo have made the Japanese capital the first stop on their separate trips to several countries in Asia.

Raimondo held talks with Japan's Trade Minister Koichi Hagiuda, with the pair stressing the importance of cooperation between the world's top and third-largest economies.

"The relationship between the United States and Japan is critically important... for shared economic values and that's why this is my first step in the region," Raimondo said in brief comments.

She called for cooperation in a range of fields, including semiconductors and supply chains, as chip shortages and production issues hamper the developed world's pandemic economic recovery.

Raimondo did not refer to discussions about steel and aluminium tariffs, but a senior official from Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) confirmed both sides "agreed to start talks".

Washington said Friday it was ready to discuss reducing the tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminium that were imposed by the Trump administration in 2018 on several economies, including the European Union and Japan.

"(The) details will come later," said Hiroyuki Hatada, senior METI official in charge of US trade.

"If tariffs are lifted, that will be a perfect solution for Japan."

The deal made with the EU does not go that far, instead allowing limited quantities of European steel and aluminium products to be imported by the United States without tariffs.

Japan and the United States are among the world's top steel producers, ranked behind China, the EU and India, according to data from the World Steel Association.

In a joint statement, Raimondo and Hagiuda said they had agreed to establish a commercial and industrial partnership to work on areas including supply chains for semiconductors, 5G telecommunications and other key industries.

They also pledged to address "market-distorting measures to counter unfair trade practices", in a likely reference to China, which Washington has accused of threatening the US steel and aluminium industries.

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