U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, keeping up pressure on Japan to cut its trade surplus with the United States, said on Tuesday American goods and services too often faced barriers in Japan and a bilateral trade agreement offered the best way forward.
Speaking to reporters after talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Pence also said that sanctions on Pyongyang would remain in full force until a fully verified denuclearization of North Korea was achieved.
"The United States has had a trade imbalance with Japan for too long. American products and services too often face barriers to compete fairly in Japanese markets," Pence said at a joint media appearance with Abe.
"The best opportunity for free, fair and reciprocal trade will come in a bilateral trade agreement," he added.
U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized Japan over trade, asserting that Tokyo treats the United States unfairly by shipping millions of cars to North America while blocking imports of U.S. autos and farm products.
Japan says its markets for manufactured goods are open, although it does protect politically sensitive farm products.
In September, Abe and Trump agreed to start trade talks in an arrangement that appeared, temporarily at least, to protect Japanese automakers from further tariffs on their exports, which make up about two-thirds of Japan's $69 billion trade surplus with the United States.
Japan has insisted the new Trade Agreement on Goods would not be a wide-ranging free trade agreement, but U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said he was aiming for a full free trade deal requiring approval by Congress.
Abe did not comment directly on the nature of a future deal.
"As for the economy, we reaffirmed that we intend to further expand bilateral trade and investment in a mutually beneficial manner in accordance with the Japan-U.S. joint statement in September, and to realise economic development of the Indo-Pacific region that is free, open and based on fair rules," Abe said.