US, Japan to boost economic cooperation with ‘2+2’ talks

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, right, sitting in a room of the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Jan 21, 2022, talks in a virtual meeting with US President Joe Biden, shown in the monitor. (CABINET SECRETARIAT/KYODO NEWS VIA AP)

WASHINGTON – US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday agreed to boost cooperation on economic and trade issues with the set-up of a new ministerial-level dialogue.

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"President Biden and Prime Minister Kishida established a new ministerial-level Economic Policy Consultative Committee (the Economic "2+2"), to track and drive economic cooperation and to strengthen the rules-based economic order in the Indo-Pacific region and the world," the White House said in a readout of the virtual meeting between the two leaders.

The promise of a "swift" resolution to trade issues signals the two leaders were unable to agree yet over whether to ease or eliminate tariffs imposed by the United States, under the Donald Trump administration in 2018, on Japanese steel and aluminum imports, Bloomberg News reported

The so-called "2+2" new economic forum, which will include US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, "has not been fully worked out," a senior US administration official said on Friday during a background press call."But the expectation is that they will work in a number of areas including export controls, but most directly in the current environment – supply chains, technology investments, and standard setting," the official said.

During the 90-minute virtual meeting, Biden and Kishida also expressed their desire for the "swift resolution" of trade issues, according to the White House.

The promise of a "swift" resolution to trade issues signals the two leaders were unable to agree yet over whether to ease or eliminate tariffs imposed by the United States, under the Donald Trump administration in 2018, on Japanese steel and aluminum imports, Bloomberg News reported.

The so-called Section 232 tariffs were applied on national security grounds and have been a thorn in otherwise close ties, the report said.

Biden also accepted Kishida's invitation to visit Japan in the late spring for the so-called "Quad" meeting among the United States, Japan, India and Australia, according to the official

The US official who briefed reporters said that Raimondo is in regular contact with her Japanese interlocutor to negotiate tariff issues. "I think the president made clear that his hope would be that these negotiations would be concluded rapidly," the official said.

Biden also accepted Kishida's invitation to visit Japan in the late spring for the so-called "Quad" meeting among the United States, Japan, India and Australia, according to the official.

"I think he did accept the invitation, obviously, with details to be worked out. And obviously, we have to see how COVID plays out," the official said.

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Friday's virtual meeting was the first substantial exchange between the two leaders since Kishida took office in October last year. The leaders had a brief conversation on the sidelines of a climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

Kishida had hoped to hold an in-person meeting with Biden early this year, but surging COVID-19 infections forced him to give up on visiting the United States before the start of a parliamentary session in Japan earlier this month.