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In Japan, Vice President Pence Pushes For Bilateral Trade Deal

Vice President Pence and Japanese Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Taro Aso leave the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on Tuesday. Pence said the U.S. and Japan had launched talks that could eventually result in a bilateral trade deal between the two economies.

Vice President Pence, visiting Japan on his 10-day tour of Asia, said the U.S. has launched bilateral talks with Tokyo in the hopes of reaching a new trade agreement.

It was Pence's second stop on the trip, which will later take him to Australia and Indonesia. He previously visited South Korea, where he emphasized the Trump administration's "resolve" on the North Korean nuclear threat, a theme he revisited in Japan as well.

Trade was also a major topic of conversation.

The initiation of new talks with Japan is meant, at least in part, to take the place of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, The Associated Press reports

President Trump campaigned against the TPP, a long-negotiated multilateral trade deal that former President Barack Obama supported. Soon after Trump took office, he pulled the U.S. out of the TPP — which needed all the signatory nations to ratify the deal.

But the TPP isn't necessarily dead, NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Tokyo:

"Pence insisted that the U.S. is finished with the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

"It will instead seek a bilateral deal with Japan which it hopes will give US companies better access to its market.

"Japan, though, is unwilling to give up on the TPP, and it's organizing other member nations to move ahead without the U.S."

Pence spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso, among others.

In talks with Aso, Pence was expected "to push for greater access to Japan's markets for U.S. companies, and for more Japanese investment in the U.S.," Anthony says.

But, as the AP notes, the new bilateral conversations aren't yet diving into details:

"The talks Tuesday did not delve into sector-by-sector issues such as auto exports. With no U.S. trade representative yet in office and other key positions still unfilled, such nitty-gritty discussions will have to come later.

"The loss of U.S. participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership was a blow to Japan following strenuous negotiations, especially over opening its long-protected farm sector to more imports, especially of dairy and meat products.

"For now, both sides seem eager to downplay potential for conflict, with Aso repeatedly saying that trade friction has been vanquished in a 'new era of cooperation.' "

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