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Pence: Talks between US and Japan could lead to free trade deal

The US and Japan have started talks on boosting their economic ties with US Vice President Mike Pence meeting Japanese officials in Tokyo. The initiative could lead to a free trade deal between the two nations, he said.

Washington and Tokyo want to see "concrete results in the near term" regarding improvements in bilateral trade, the two countries said on Tuesday. The economic talks started with Vice President Pence meeting Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso in Japan, the second stop of his 10-day Asia tour.

Japanese government, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is still reeling from the US decision to drop the ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. TPP was intended to create a massive free trade zone including the US, Japan and 10 other nations, and counterbalance China's economic footprint.

However, US President Donald Trump decided to pull out of the deal, saying it was bad for American workers.

US imports more than it exports to Japan

The TPP was a "thing of the past" for the US, Pence reaffirmed on Tuesday. At the same time, he hinted that a free trade deal was still in the cards between the two countries.

"Today we are beginning a process of economic dialog," he said in Tokyo. "At some point in the future, there may be a decision made between our nations to take what we have learned in this dialog and commence formal negotiations for a free trade agreement."

Japan boasts a massive trade surplus with the US. Last year, the difference reached $69 billion (64.7 billion euro) in favor of the heavily industrialized Asian nation. Despite the positive balance, Japan still struggles with long-running economic woes.

Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said that the two countries would hold a new round of economic talks by the end of the year.

"I will continue having constructive talks with Mr Pence so as to deepen the win-win economic relations between Japan and the US," he said.

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