U.S. President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to “permanently withdraw” the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The president promoted his “America First” policies during his inauguration address and immediately put his words into action, rushing toward protectionism.This stance is very problematic.
Furthermore, it cannot be overlooked that President Trump one-sidedly criticized Japan’s automobile market as closed.
If this is the beginning of the the new U.S. administration’s trade policy, it is unacceptable. Nevertheless, we must not shield our eyes from reality.
Although Japan’s strategy for dealing with the U.S. has been based on trade negotiations, it has now become necessary to swiftly reformulate that strategy in order to achieve the objective of maintaining and expanding free trade.
The TPP is an accord on which 12 countries including the U.S. reached a final agreement by overcoming differences and confrontations. It is regrettable that the pact cannot be effectuated on account of President Trump.
The important thing is to utilize the TPP’s benefits, which established new rules not only on tariffs but also on trade and investment, in other negotiations. As a driving force for free trade, Japan should fulfill its responsibility to the international community.
“I am determined to seek President Trump’s understanding of the strategic and economic significance of the TPP,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said when answering questions in a Diet session.
The policies of the Trump administration are still uncertain. Japan does not need to lower the TPP flag just yet. The government should continue to work tenaciously on persuading Washington to change its mind.
In the meantime, Japan should also address this difficult situation realistically by formulating an alternative plan. Tokyo cannot afford to just wait and see, suspending its trade negotiations and hoping that the U.S. will change its mind.
Australian Prime Minister Turnbull has proposed to Prime Minister Abe that the TPP members should proceed without the participation of the U.S. This is one option. Although the TPP’s benefits would be undermined if it were to be effectuated without the U.S., it is worth considering the proposal by inviting other countries to join. The Chilean government has sounded out the TPP member countries about holding a ministerial meeting in March.
If the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which China is a member of, move forward, the U.S. will be left behind the global trend. In this regard, Japan should dissuade the U.S. from practicing protectionism.
Tokyo needs to clearly refute President Trump’s remarks about Japan’s automobile exports to the U.S. If the U.S. shifts its trade policy from the TPP to bilateral agreements because of such views based on inaccurate information, Japan will have to brace itself for extremely difficult negotiations.