US President Barack Obama has hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House to showcase a deeper defence partnership between the two countries and advance a Pacific trade pact.

Washington and Tokyo are working toward a 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that would further open vast Asian and Pacific rim markets to US exports.

"Ours is an alliance focused on the future," said Obama on Tuesday, welcoming the Japanese leader in the capital. 

"In 1960, President Eisenhower welcomed Prime Minister Abe's grandfather, Prime Minister Kishi, here to the White House.

"They signed the security treaty that endures to this day, committing American and Japan to an indestructible partnership."

Officials on both sides say they will likely declare they have made considerable progress in closing remaining gaps, but a trade breakthrough is not expected.

A deal between the two economic powerhouses is vital to clinching the overall Pacific pact, which would cover a third of world trade.

But differences remain between the US and Japan over cars and agriculture.

Sticking points

Obama said there are many Japanese cars in the US and he wants to see more American cars in Japan as well. 

US tariffs on Japanese pick-up trucks, and barriers in Japan on certain US agricultural products, are two other sticking points.

On Monday, Japanese and US foreign and defence ministers meeting in New York approved revisions to the US-Japan defence guidelines.

The new rules boost Japan's military capability amid growing Chinese assertiveness in disputed areas in the East and South China Sea claimed by Beijing.

The changes, which strengthen Japan's role in missile defence, mine sweeping and ship inspections, are the first revisions in 18 years to the rules that govern US-Japan defence cooperation.

Abe, who on Wednesday will be the first Japanese prime minister to address a joint meeting of the US Congress, will face the challenge of helping Obama win over fellow Democrats who oppose the trade deal as being bad for US jobs.

Source: Agencies