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U.S., Japan see progress on trade

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama acknowledged Tuesday the challenge he faces winning congressional support for a major Asia-Pacific trade deal that has become a cornerstone of his second-term agenda. “It’s never fun passing a trade bill in this town,” the president said as he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared their determination to seeing the deal through.

Both Obama and Abe face domestic pressures on trade that have not only created sticking points between Japan and the U.S., but also have complicated Obama’s ability to win support for a broader 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

With Japan and the U.S. as the largest economies in those negotiations, resolving their own differences could go far in paving the way for the more extensive trade deal.

“I know that the politics around trade can be hard in both our countries,” Obama said, as Abe stood by his side during a Rose Garden news conference.

While Abe’s visit to the White House was not expected to yield a trade breakthrough, the lack of a final accord between the two nonetheless stood out given agreement in other areas, particularly on changes to U.S.-Japan defense guidelines – an area where both countries share more common ground. New rules boost Japan’s military capability amid Chinese assertiveness in disputed areas in the East and South China Sea claimed by Beijing.

Referring to the trade barriers on vehicles that have been one of the main sticking points in the U.S-Japan trade talks, Obama said: “There are many Japanese cars in America, I want to see more American cars in Japan as well.”

Before completing the deal, however, Obama must win expanded negotiating authority from the U.S. Congress, a difficult task given opposition from liberals and labor unions who say they fear the loss of American jobs. As a result, Obama’s stiffest resistance has come from members of his own Democratic Party.

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