U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday that he was looking forward to an “update” on talks about a bilateral trade agreement that President Donald Trump hopes will cut Tokyo’s trade surplus with Washington.
Pence, who is in Tokyo at the start of a broader Asian visit, also said he would discuss with Abe how Tokyo and Washington could work to advance the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and said the United States remained committed to a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”
“I look forward to our candid conversation and to an update on the discussions toward a bilateral trade agreement” that Trump and Abe agreed to initiate at a summit in September, Pence said at the start of his talks with Abe.
“I also look forward to discussions on how we can continue to work closely on advancing the goal of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Pence said, adding, “We are grateful Mr. Prime Minister for your strong and steadfast leadership.”
Trump has criticized Japan over trade, asserting Tokyo treats the United States unfairly by shipping millions of cars to North America while blocking imports of U.S. autos and farm products.
Japan says its markets for manufactured goods are open, although it does protect politically sensitive farm products.
Before meeting Abe, Pence met Finance Minister Taro Aso, who had said before that meeting that he did not expect to discuss possible auto tariffs with the vice president.
In September, Abe and Trump agreed to start trade talks in an arrangement that appeared, temporarily at least, to protect Japanese automakers from further tariffs on their exports, which make up about two-thirds of Japan’s $69 billion trade surplus with the United States.
Japan has insisted the new Trade Agreement on Goods would not be a wide-ranging free trade agreement, but U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said he was aiming for a full free trade deal requiring approval by Congress.
The U.S. Commerce Department has submitted draft recommendations to the White House on its investigation into whether to impose tariffs of up to 25 percent on imported cars and parts on national security grounds, two administration officials said in Washington.
In June, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Trump pledged to work toward denuclearization at a summit in Singapore, but there has been little headway on specific steps.
A planned meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials in New York on Thursday was cancelled.
The State Department gave no reason for the delay.
A U.S. think tank said on Monday it had identified at least 13 of an estimated 20 undeclared missile operating bases inside North Korea, underscoring the challenge for U.S. negotiators to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
Japan has said it will not normalize relations with Pyongyang until it takes irreversible and verifiable steps to dismantle its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and reveals the fate of all Japanese kidnapped by North Korean agents and return any who may still be alive.
After meeting Abe, Pence will head to Singapore for a meeting of regional powers and then to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Papua New Guinea.