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Editorial: Newly decided U.S. tariff on steel imports could hurt free trade system

Any turmoil brought about by a country’s unilateral, domestically oriented action will not be limited to the items subject to such measures. Protectionist policies will hurt free trade and unfavorably affect the United States itself as well.


U.S. President Donald Trump signed measures to restrict steel and aluminum imports. Additional import tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent for aluminum will be imposed. The planned tariffs will be applied to all the nations exporting these products to the United States, except for an extremely limited number of countries, including Canada.


Washington also said it was willing to negotiate with its allies individually, including Japan, thus leaving open the possibility of excluding them, depending on how such talks turn out.


It was quite reasonable that Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko protested to the U.S. Trade Representative against the measures, and also strongly pressed Washington to exclude Japanese products.


To say nothing of the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance, Japan has to thoroughly explain to Washington the actual state of affairs in which most of the Japanese steel products being sold to the United States are high-tech products that do not compete with U.S.-made products.


Japan also has to tenaciously state that trade disputes would bring no benefits to either side, but that the development of reciprocal free trade is vitally necessary for both sides.


Trump, who considers the U.S. trade deficit with Japan problematic, may intend to use the latest measures as a bargaining chip in other areas and offer to make a deal.


It is not acceptable for a country to urge its trading partner country to open up its market further, as a condition of having an unreasonable protectionist policy rectified.


Seek international cooperation


There are worries that the latest measures could affect global trade, as the European Union and China have referred to implementing retaliatory measures against the United States.


Should a tit-for-tat game of imposing retaliatory tariffs on major products escalate, it would bring about a worldwide decline in economic activities.


It is reasonable to respect the dispute settlement procedures of the World Trade Organization. It is essential for Japan to approach other countries to maintain trade order.


Lying behind the steel issue is China’s overproduction of steel, which distorts global markets. China, which accounts for more than half the global steel production capacity, is urged to swiftly reform its industrial structure, including the elimination of loss-making production facilities.


To intensify pressure on China, it is important for Japan to actively call for international cooperation through such occasions as the meeting of the Group of 20 major economies.


Eleven countries, including Japan and Australia, have signed a revamped Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement without the United States.


Trump has referred to the possibility of the United States rejoining the TPP, with renegotiation of the TPP as a condition. The TPP has high strategic value as a seawall to check the United States from leaning further toward protectionism.


For the new TPP accord to take effect, it needs to be approved by at least six countries. The Japanese government will submit a bill to approve the pact and a related bill to the ongoing regular session of the Diet. It is important for Japan to be the first among the 11 countries to ratify the pact, thus providing impetus for its early effectuation.

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