By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
OMAHA (DTN) -- USDA Trade Undersecretary Ted McKinney is leading a trade delegation to Japan this week and said he hopes the U.S. and Japan can start moving forward with more formal trade talks between the two countries despite the possible risks from tariffs.
McKinney has become accustomed to holding conference calls with reporters about the state of his latest trade trip to highlight issues raised in a particular country.
The U.S. and Japan have been holding an "ongoing economic dialogue," which McKinney added is a step short of formal trade talks. Responding to a question, McKinney said he had not heard any concerns suggesting Japan was waiting for the North American Free Trade Agreement talks to be completed before Japan would begin any bilateral talks with the Trump administration.
"I do not know the exact next steps of the economic dialogue," McKinney said. "I do know the U.S., and I think frankly Japan as well, want very much to get into some trade discussions. I think the difference is the U.S. is on a path looking at a focused one-on-one bilateral, whereas we have heard, of course, that Japan would prefer the U.S. rejoin the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership)."
McKinney noted agricultural trade missions are one of the best tools for bringing industry groups and businesses to foreign companies to introduce them in an organized way to potential buyers of products, as well as foreign sellers.
McKinney said the current trade mission is one of the largest in the history of USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service with representatives from 42 separate businesses and 15 state departments of agriculture, mostly from Western states, the undersecretary noted.
Despite the risks of further tariffs because of the Trump administration's push against steel and aluminum imports, McKinney said participants on the trade mission are upbeat about sale prospects in Japan right now.
"Do they wish there were not tariffs? Absolutely," McKinney said, quickly adding, though, that he had not talked to people from "any institution that had not experienced the nefarious actions of the Chinese. I'm pivoting directly to the Chinese, not the Japanese."
McKinney said people understand the increase of non-tariff trade barriers had been going on too long and businesspeople are supportive of the president's tariff actions.
Regarding beef access in Japan -- always a topic on the U.S. livestock industry's mind -- McKinney said the U.S. was "hopeful for greater access as they resolve some of the restrictions on the age of the beef. This is one of the things I raised. I did not get a commitment, but I think they are moving through the process. I have found the Japanese are good for their word when they say they are progressing ... We're optimistic there."
The undersecretary said there were already a flurry of business-to-business meetings in Tokyo, and the group was headed to host similar events in Osaka, Japan, as well. Companies involved sold wine, craft beer, coffee, nut crops, honey, soy, corn, rice, beef, lamb, fruits as well as processed goods, as well as ethanol and animal veterinary products and genetics.
Regarding government-to-government meetings, the group met with the minister of agriculture and Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, which is part of the regulatory system that approves imported products.
McKinney was also asked about talks in China as well in late May, but he said both parties agreed not to talk about the specific details at that event. McKinney noted Chinese officials were focused on numbers while U.S. agricultural trade officials were more focused on policy issues. "I would say we felt pretty good about the agricultural discussions we had," he said.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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