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The Biden administration has dropped efforts to pressure Japan to include anti-whaling language in the Indo-Pacific trade pact it signed after a backlash from Tokyo and concerns from some U.S. officials.

The U.S. Trade Representative has been urging Japan to accept anti-whaling language in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which is negotiating a trade deal with 13 Indo-Pacific nations. But the office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), led by Katherine Tai, has reversed course because of opposition, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The Financial Times reported last week that Tokyo was strongly opposed to including anti-whaling language in IPEF. A senior Japanese official said Tokyo was prepared to abandon IPEF in a blow to Washington unless the U.S. made concessions, and hoped the deal would serve as an economic counterweight to China.

The move to pressure Japan comes as U.S. President Joe Biden prepares to host Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol for a historic trilateral summit at Camp David on Friday.

Senior officials from other parts of the Biden administration, including the White House and State Department, have also opposed USTR’s plan to include anti-whaling language in IPEF, fearing it would jeopardize the pact and create a rift with Japan, arguably America’s most important partner. nation. Allies in Asia.

The White House and USTR had no comment. Kishida spokesman Noriyuki Shikata did not comment on the progress of the talks, but said “it would be constructive for all IPEF members to focus on reaching many forward-looking agreements on the positive aspects of the negotiations”.

While Friday’s summit aimed to strengthen trilateral cooperation by bringing Tokyo and Seoul closer in the security arena, the whaling dispute with Tokyo has become a thorn in the side of the usually good bilateral relationship between the United States and Japan.

Christopher Johnstone, a Japan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank and a former senior White House and Pentagon official, said: “IPEF is not the place to address whaling, so removing it from the agenda would be diplomatic. A triumph of common sense.” “Japan’s active partnership in IPEF is more important to U.S. interests, and a focus on whaling puts that partnership at risk.”

The International Whaling Commission moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986. Before withdrawing from the IWC in 2019, Japan circumvented the moratorium with a provision allowing the killing of whales for “scientific research”, prompting strong criticism from conservationists and other IWC members.

Since withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission, Japan has only allowed whale hunting within its exclusive economic zone. Its whaling industry has struggled in recent years due to a lack of expensive research subsidies and shifting public tastes.

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