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Trump pressed Abe to open up auto market at G-20

TOKYO — U.S. President Donald Trump told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to open up Japan’s auto market when the two met at the Group of 20 summit earlier this month, it was learned Thursday.


That was the first time Trump mentioned the automobile issue to Abe in bilateral talks.


Trump and Abe spoke for about a half hour on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, on July 8. The Japanese side reported earlier that the U.S. president touched on the trade imbalance between the two countries along with market access.


Abe brought up corporate Japan’s contribution to U.S. employment, which includes direct investments on American soil, said a source close to the Japanese government.


While Trump praised those activities, he still insisted that Japan do something about the lopsided trade. He specifically cited the inability of American automakers to export to Japan, seemingly referring to nontariff barriers such as safety and environmental standards.


The U.S. trade deficit with Japan came to roughly $68.9 billion last year, according to data from the U.S. Commerce Department. The automobile category accounts for nearly 80% of the shortfall.


Although American vehicles are not slapped with import duties in Japan, they still struggle to sell in the country. Washington has called for more relaxed technological safety standards and sales approval processes to promote wider market participation.


Tokyo maintains that the problem lies with the autos themselves and the efforts made to market them. The success European models are enjoying in Japan is held up as evidence.


Many in Japan believe that Trump’s political struggle at home is behind his face-to-face appeal to Abe. Japan and the European Union reaching a broad agreement on a trade pact has leaders of U.S. industry concerned about falling behind in the Japanese market. The allegations surrounding the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia are also putting the president on the defensive.


Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and his U.S. counterpart, Vice President Mike Pence, are preparing to meet in Washington in October for the second round of high-level economic talks agreed to this year. Tokyo is bracing for a harder line from the White House, which is looking to boost flagging opinion polls. Along with autos, agricultural goods could dominate the discussion.

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