TOKYO (AP) — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has picked up his barbeque tongs to convey his message to Japan: Buy more American beef.
Perdue said Monday that as a top consumer of U.S. beef, Japan should treat the U.S. fairly. He said he hoped President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will strike a trade deal during his boss's visit to Japan later this month, but acknowledged more time might be needed.
"We're saying treat us as a prime customer the way we treated Japanese products for many years," Perdue told reporters after cooking some beef and pork on a Tokyo shopping mall rooftop, using his family's barbecue sauce recipe. Perdue also expressed impatience with the progress of trade talks that have been going on for more than two years.
"From my perspective and our farmers in America, I'd have preferred it done yesterday, but the reality is these things take time," he said. "Nothing has happened," he said. "It's time to get going."
Japan's limits on imports of meat and other farm products have been a recurring issue with the U.S. The Trump administration is worried that Japan will buy more from other nations that have signed trade deals with Japan in recent years, such as Australia and Europe. Japan, a country of 126 million, is the fourth largest market for U.S. agricultural products.
Perdue, who visited Japan for a weekend meeting of farm officials of the Group of 20 industrial nations, did not give specifics on timing, proposed tariff reductions or product sectors, saying those were up to trade negotiators. "We should be treated as fairly as any other country with whom Japan has an agreement," he said.
Japan logged a $70 billion surplus with the U.S. last year, and the trade imbalance has long been a sore spot with its most important ally. But Trump's withdrawal from a Pacific Rim trade arrangement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, meant the loss of hard-won concessions from Japan that its leaders have said are their bottom line on trade.
Perdue reiterated Trump's stance that TPP was not fair. Alluding to U.S. moves to penalize China for in a dispute with Beijing over trade and technology, Perdue said the actions came about because China had not responded fairly in the negotiations. He said he would send "a similar message to Japan."