One question loomed large Tuesday during the vice president's first diplomatic mission to Japan: Where's the beef?
Take that literally: The $60 billion U.S. beef industry was one of the most ardent backers of the now-defunct free trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That sweeping deal covered a dozen nations along the Pacific Rim, but the big prize for the United States was improved access to the 127 million consumers in Japan.
"The United States seeks stronger and more balanced bilateral trade relationships with every country, including Japan," Pence said. "Our goal is simple: We seek trade that is free, and we seek trade that is fair."
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — the administration's point person on trade — joined Pence in Tokyo for bilateral trade talks with Japan's deputy prime minister and other senior officials. Pence emphasized the role of Japanese investment in the United States in creating jobs and fostering economic growth. But some tensions remain: The Treasury Department last week said it is "monitoring" Japan's currency practices amid the large trade deficit.
"I'm not sure Japan will be that interested" in a new deal, said Miriam Sapiro, who served as acting U.S. trade representative under President Barack Obama and is now a partner at PR firm Finsbury. "Some concessions that Japan made because the U.S. asked might not make sense in a bilateral agreement."