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Interview with ex-USTR Kantor on Japan-U.S. trade friction

By Hitoshi Tojo in New York


Mickey Kantor, 77, who was the U.S. Trade Representative involved with the Japan-U.S. trade talks on autos and auto parts in the 1990s, gave a telephone interview to Tokyo Shimbun ahead of the Japan-U.S. summit on Feb. 10. Commenting on the criticism of the unfairness of the Japanese auto market by President Donald Trump, who adopts an “America first” posture, Kantor stressed that “Japan-U.S. trade friction is a thing of the past.” He asked Japan to stand firm on the principles of free trade.


Q: Mr. Trump takes issue with the sluggish sales of American cars in Japan, and he is expected to demand an increase in imports at the summit meeting.


Kantor: Japan-U.S. trade friction has ended. Japanese carmakers have built production plants in the U.S., hiring many workers. There is no doubt that the trade relationship between the two countries is stable. I actually own two Toyota Lexus cars


Q: There has been a dramatic change from the heated arguments between Japan and the U.S. in the past.


Kantor: At that time, the U.S. thought that the Japanese market was unfair. It wasn’t just cars; there was also a problem with glass. We were able to achieve progress through negotiations with Mr. Ryutaro Hashimoto (then minister of international trade and industry; deceased), where both sides respected each other’s interests. That is what trade talks are all about.


Q: How do you think Prime Minister Abe should respond to Mr. Trump’s strong criticism of Japan?


Kantor: Japan should focus on the open market and the trade principles based on rules that it has promoted so far. Frameworks setting important rules, such as the TPP, guarantee fair trade and bring tremendous benefits. I hope that Japan will urge him to reconsider his decision to withdraw from the TPP.


Q: However, Mr. Trump is thinking of eliciting conditions advantageous to the U.S. through bilateral talks.


Kantor: Mr. Trump believes that the U.S. can overwhelm other countries and conclude advantageous agreements with its economic power, but he is wrong. Japan and other trading partners are not colonies. The U.S. attempted to protect its economy by putting up barriers with other countries in the 1930s, but this made the Great Depression worse. Mr. Trump’s methods will bring chaos to the world economy.


Q: There is concern that the trade order may disintegrate if the U.S. gives up its role as leader.


Kantor: If the U.S. decides to abandon its leadership role, China will seek to replace it. I don’t think China’s hegemony is the best option. I hope that Prime Minister Abe will persuade Mr. Trump to change course.

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