Japan, United States face off in crucial trade negotiations

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Japan and the United States on Wednesday began a round of crucial talks aimed at concluding a trade pact seen as critical to the success of regional negotiations, although officials warned that bridging differences would be difficult. Tokyo and Washington are seeking a two-way trade deal, regarded as a key part of the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that is the centerpiece of Washington's push to increase its Asian presence, before U.S. President Barack Obama visits Japan later this month. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has touted the multilateral framework as an key part of his growth strategy but the outlook for a Japan-U.S. deal is cloudy as both sides accuse each other of inflexibility. "I think if there is good will on both sides we can make progress on bridging our differences," U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told reporters before a day of talks with officials including Economy Minister Akira Amari.