US mulls setting trans-Pacific trade deal without Japan as progress stymied by farm tariffs

TOKYO – Prospects for a comprehensive trans-Pacific trade pact appeared increasingly uncertain Tuesday as the U.S. and Japan struggle over Tokyo’s commitment to keep tariffs on hundreds of farm products.

Japan’s top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said the two sides were still trying to bridge their differences at the last day of 12-nation talks underway in Singapore.

“Regarding those unresolved issues, I am hoping that the officials who are gathered there will work to the very end,” Suga told reporters in Tokyo.

Originally, the members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership had sought to reach a deal by the end of 2013. When that failed, they set their sights on the talks this week in Singapore. Japan’s Kyodo News Service reported Tuesday that another round of talks may be required to reach agreement.

The Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun said U.S. officials were considering an agreement that might initially exclude Japan after U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Japan’s delegate to the talks, Economy Minister Akira Amari, met twice in Singapore but failed to bridge their differences,

When Japan committed to joining the trade arrangement, it said it would insist on protecting key farm products. The Yomiuri said one option may be to eliminate tariffs on products not imported before 2010.

Differences remain between other countries on issues other than farm products, such as reform of state industries.