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Editorial: Trump’s real intentions unclear in speech hinting at U.S. return to TPP

Is this a sign that the United States will review its protectionist trade policies? Is it merely a strategy typical of U.S. President Donald Trump, changing his attitude several times and stirring up other countries? Japan must carefully determine the real intent behind Trump’s remarks.


Trump delivered a speech at the annual general meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, expressing his view to consider the multilateral free trade pact.


Concerning the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, from which the United States withdrew one year ago at the start of his administration, Trump mentioned the possibility of a U.S. return to the TPP on the premise of renegotiations, saying that the United States will consider negotiating with TPP member countries either individually or as a group if the United States could secure a “substantially better deal.”


Trump has so far called the TPP the worst trade pact in history and praised himself for withdrawing from it, as he pledged to do during the presidential election campaign. It is difficult to say, judging only from his latest remarks, that Trump has changed his stance of turning his back on international cooperation.


Eleven countries, including Japan and Australia, reached a consensus to sign a new TPP without the United States in March, representing an official agreement among them.

If the United States returns to the TPP, or if TPP member countries conclude a bilateral deal separately, the future path of the pact is unclear. It is natural that Toshimitsu Motegi, minister in charge of economic revitalization, said that Japan will put top priority on the new TPP coming into effect.


Walk the walk


The TPP embodies the “fair and reciprocal trade” that Trump attaches importance to, and will act to restrain rule-breaking practices by China. While carefully watching the moves of the U.S. administration, Japan must continually explain to the United States the significance of the TPP and of its unconditional early return to the pact.


The Trump administration also has come to a standstill in the renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. The U.S. livestock industry is voicing dissatisfaction, as it cannot receive the benefits of lower tariffs on beef exports due to the U.S. withdrawal from the TPP.


It may be a cause for worry in the U.S. administration that it cannot produce tangible results from its trade policies.


It should be noted that a change is not expected in Trump’s pet theory that places importance on bilateral negotiations. With an eye on pressuring China and South Korea, his administration has decided to impose safeguard tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines for household use.


There is no doubt that Trump will regard the U.S. trade deficit as a negative factor and maintain his stance of protecting its domestic industries at all costs.


At the Davos meeting, speeches expressing concern about protectionism have been made one after another. French President Emmanuel Macron warned against it and used the expression “fragmentation of the world.”


It is commendable that in reaction to the warning, Trump said, “When the United States grows, so does the world.” It is hoped that Trump will put into practice his remark that “‘America First’ does not mean America alone.”

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