WASHINGTON -- The top U.S. trade official on Monday pressed Japan to open up its auto and insurance markets as he pushed for the completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
Speaking during a stop in Tokyo, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said Japan plays a central role in the Asia-Pacific region and welcomed its decision this year to join the talks on a region-wide trade pact.
But Froman said negotiators would have to address some remaining barriers for the U.S. and other countries in the Japanese market.
"Barriers to access to Japan's automotive and insurance markets and non-tariff measures in other sectoral and cross-cutting areas, hold back growth and innovation," Froman told the Japan National Press Club, according to the text of his prepared remarks.
"They undermine competitiveness, and they hurt workers, business and consumers in both our countries," he said. "As Japan seeks to launch a period of renewal, we must seize this opportunity to resolve the serious issues that have come between us for too long."
[Updated, 8:40 a.m. PDT Aug. 19: On Monday, Japan reported that its exports in July rose more than 12% from a year earlier, boosted by big gains in car sales to the U.S. The year-over-year percentage increase in Japan's total exports was the largest since late 2010.
Analysts say Japan's exporters are likely to continue to benefit from the country's weakened currency. The yen is down about 25% against the dollar from last November.
Overall, Japan's shipments to the U.S. jumped 18.4% last month compared with a year earlier. Japan's sales to Europe turned positive as the Eurozone economy shows signs of improvement. And Japan's exports to China, its biggest trading partner, rose 9.5% in July.
On the other side of the ledger, Japan's weaker yen contributed to a nearly 20% increase in imports as the value of oil purchases surged by more than 30%. While the higher cost for oil, which is typically priced in dollars, will hurt the bottom lines of businesses, Japanese companies last month also sharply boosted their imports of machinery, a positive sign of higher investment and capital spending.
With imports rising faster than exports, Japan's trade deficit surged to about $10.4 billion last month. That was the highest level since January.]
Speaking during a news conference in Tokyo, Froman said the foreign share of Japan's automobile market was just 6%, Reuters news service reported.
U.S. negotiators met with their Japanese counterparts in Tokyo this month to discuss the trade barriers, and the talks "are off to a good start," Froman said.
Those bilateral talks are going on in parallel with negotiations for the broader trade partnership, which involves the U.S., Canada, Mexico and several other Pacific Rim nations. China is not part of the talks but in May expressed interested in joining the U.S.-led negotiations.