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US-Japan leaders discuss trade, China, and North Korea

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At a brief picture-taking session with reporters before lunch, Obama fielded several questions on prospects for avoiding “sequestration,” or the automatic federal spending cuts set to take effect March 1. Abe answered a query about North Korea, saying, “We just cannot tolerate the actions of North Korea, such as launching missiles and conducting nuclear tests,” Saying he and Obama “agreed we would cooperate with one another and deal resolutely” with Pyongyang, Abe specifically cited the possibility of stiffer “financial sanctions.”

On the regional economy, conversation focused on Japan’s interest in joining a trade pact called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) currently being negotiated among the US and 10 other Asia-Pacific countries.

In a joint statement issued after the two leaders’ talks, the two governments agreed that “more work needs to be done” before Japan could be included in the 11-country negotiations. The statement says that in particular Japan would have to address “concerns” over its tightly protected automotive and insurance sectors, although it also says Japan would not be required to “make a prior commitment to unilaterally eliminate all tariffs” in order to join the talks – something that had been a sticking point for Abe. 

The US says it would like to welcome Japan into the talks for the TPP – which the US envisions as a template for 21st-century international trade and investment agreements – but it says Japan would first have to open its auto and food markets to more imports.

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