Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not discuss a possible free trade agreement with the United States at upcoming talks with President Donald Trump as the two countries remain apart on the issue, Japanese government sources said Saturday.
Abe will tell Trump they should leave trade issues to be discussed through the bilateral economic dialogue launched last April, apparently because if the leaders reveal gaps on the issues, it could affect a range of agenda items they could agree on, such as security cooperation amid tensions over North Korea.
“If the relationship between the Japanese and U.S. leaders cracks, it would adversely impact our close alliance focusing on North Korea and China,” one source said.
In talks on Monday, Abe and Trump are expected to call for denuclearizing North Korea and to announce they will promote “a free and open Indo-Pacific region” — a veiled criticism of China’s growing assertiveness and military buildup.
Trump will arrive in Japan on Sunday, at the start of a trip to five Asian nations where the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile development programs is expected to be the major focus.
In preparing for the Abe-Trump talks, U.S. officials did not explicitly demand that the leaders agree to launch bilateral free trade negotiations, according to the sources.
But a source close to the prime minister’s office said, “It is unpredictable. (Trump) may call for an FTA, depending on the course of conversation.”
In that case, Abe will likely avoid giving an answer while stressing the need for their governments to spend time discussing the matter.
Japan and the United States launched a high-level dialogue in April to discuss economic, trade and investment issues, led by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and Vice President Mike Pence.
During the second round of the dialogue held in Washington in October, Pence expressed Washington’s interest in commencing FTA talks with Japan, according to a Japanese official, while Aso stressed the significance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade deal.
As Trump has pulled the United States out of the TPP, Tokyo is moving ahead with talks between the 11 remaining countries in the pact, which was signed in 2016 but has yet to come into force.