SINGAPORE Bilateral talks between Japan and the United States held as part of negotiations on a Pacific trade pact ended without an agreement on Monday, with Japanese Economics Minister Akira Amari saying that gaps still remained between the two sides.
U.S. and Japanese differences over agricultural tariffs are one of the major hurdles facing the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and time is running out to find a way forward at the latest round of talks which wrap up in Singapore on Tuesday.
"There are still considerable gaps between the positions of Japan and the United States," Amari told reporters.
"But discussions are deepening," Amari said, adding that, the two sides agreed to continue efforts at the working level to try to narrow the differences.
Amari said that at this stage, no minister-level talks between the United States and Japan had been set for Tuesday.
Asked about the prospects for an in-principle agreement on the overall TPP talks, Amari said the talks had not yet reached a consensus.
He added, however, that there were some areas where there has been a convergence, adding that various bilateral negotiations had also been moving forward.
The TPP, which will cover around 40 percent of the world's economy, aims to set common standards on a range of issues from regulation to labour and environmental protection.
But trade officials from the 12 nations involved in the talks have made it clear many of the final hurdles involve more concrete trade barriers such as tariffs on imported goods and caps on imports of sensitive goods.
Japan, which has tried to protect its rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy and sugar from outside competition, is in particular focus as farmers in big agricultural exporting nations push for elimination of all tariffs.
Monday's talks were the second set of bilateral talks between Japan and the United States since the four-day TPP talks began in Singapore on Saturday.
Negotiators are hoping that a draft deal can be ready by the time U.S. President Barack Obama visits the region in April.
(Reporting by Masayuki Kitano; Writing by Rachel Armstrong; Editing by Alison Williams)