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US pushes for bilateral trade deal with Japan as talks extend to 2nd day

Japan maintained its preference for a multilateral trade pact even as the U.S. sought a bilateral deal during the first day of high-level ministerial talks between two of the world's biggest economies, according to media reports.

Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who is leading the Japanese contingent in Washington, said the U.S. is seeking bilateral negotiations but Japan's position is that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact is best for both countries, the Nikkei Asian Review reported.

Motegi said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who heads the U.S. delegation, did not mention the term "free trade agreement" but described the framework as "bilateral" during the meeting's initial session on Aug. 9. With no agreement reached, the two countries agreed to extend talks through Aug. 10, according to the Nikkei.

The Japanese economy minister said the two parties did reach "a better understanding" of each other's positions but did not comment on whether they have tackled opening up Japanese markets to agricultural products such as beef, the Nikkei report added.

Lighthizer's office said he and Motegi had a "thorough and constructive exchange of views on all bilateral trade issues," Reuters reported.

Trump said in April his administration wants a bilateral trade deal with Japan and has opposed rejoining the TPP after he withdrew the U.S. from the accord in January 2017. Tokyo fears a bilateral deal would mean tariff reductions on farm exports and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is looking to avoid any major concessions ahead of an upper house election in the summer of 2019, the Nikkei said.