Japanese trade officials on Tuesday assured the United States they were prepared to discuss key U.S. trade demands if allowed to join talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade pact, the U.S. Trade Representative's office said.

"Japanese officials underscored the Japanese government's readiness to engage with the United States on a range of issues going forward," USTR spokeswoman Carol Guthrie said in a statement. "As a next step, both governments agreed to hold a follow-up meeting at the working level on Feb. 21-22 in Washington, D.C., as the consultative process continues."

The National Pork Producers Council has said it supports the inclusion of Japan to the talks. “The U.S. pork industry strongly supports Japan’s entry into the TPP, and NPPC urges the United States and the other TPP countries to accede to Japan’s request,” said NPPC President Doug Wolf, a pork producer from Lancaster, Wis. “Pork producers would gain tremendous market opportunities with Japan as part of the TPP.”

Japan is pressing to join the United States and other countries in talks on the proposed TPP pact, but faces strong opposition from Detroit auto manufacturers who say they do not believe Tokyo is really prepared at this time to open its market to more car imports.

The Obama administration is consulting with Congress, business and organized labor as it makes up its mind whether to support Japan, Canada and Mexico's bid to join the TPP talks, which now include the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

"We have to go through a very deliberative process," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told Reuters in a recent interview. The current TPP members are entertaining the three countries' interest "and frankly giving them the concerns of our stakeholders over the next several months," he said.

"But we've also agreed we aren't going to slow down on our work to ... conclude this agreement this year, as our leaders have asked us to do," Kirk said, referring to a goal set in November by U.S. President Barack Obama and other heads of the TPP countries.

Some members of Congress - especially from auto-producing states such as Michigan - also share Detroit's concern about Japan joining the negotiations, since it could lead to an agreement requiring the United States to eliminate remaining tariffs on Japanese auto imports.