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Editorial: Japan must make utmost efforts to maintain free trade

The Trump administration’s unilateral imposition of additional tariffs and announcement of hardline trade policies has triggered retaliation from China and led to a situation resembling a “trade war.” This is also a crisis for free trade and multilateral cooperation, which forms the basis of the world’s economic growth. Japan has a grave responsibility in this regard.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit the U.S. next week and hold talks with President Donald Trump on April 17-18. The trade issue will be an important item on the agenda along with the North Korea issues.


The Trump administration, which attaches great importance to bilateral trade deficits, has come up with a series of unilateral policies, such as punitive tariffs. While its main target is China, additional tariffs have also been slapped on Japanese steel and aluminum products for security reasons.


Japan should demand the revocation of these tariffs. At the same time, it needs to be prepared to take the case to the World Trade Organization for a solution under a multinational framework if the tariffs are actually implemented.


The Trump administration has also announced punitive tariffs on China under Section 301 of the Trade Act for forcing foreign companies to transfer technology.


Using unilateral punitive tariffs to intimidate is questionable. However, not only the U.S., but also Japan and the EU have an interest in China’s violation of intellectual property rights. Japan, the U.S., and Europe should confirm their collaboration through a meeting of their trade ministers, for instance.


Prime Minister Abe needs to persuade President Trump that Japan, the U.S., and Europe should cooperate in seeking a solution under a multinational framework for such issues as China’s violation of intellectual property rights and overproduction.


The U.S. may also demand measures to reduce the bilateral trade deficit, such as a Japan-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA). Specific bilateral issues should be discussed calmly at the Japan-U.S. Economic Dialogue.


While Japan implemented measures such as reducing tariffs in agriculture, a sector of concern to the U.S., through TPP negotiations with the Obama administration, the Trump administration withdrew from the TPP.


Although the TPP 11 have signed a new accord without the U.S., it is unlikely for the U.S. to return to the TPP any time soon.


If Japan is to start new trade talks with the U.S., it should focus on digital transactions and other areas not covered by the TPP, with an eye on creating a framework for future cooperation with Europe, Asia, and other regions.


We hope that Prime Minister Abe will persevere in persuading President Trump, who advocates an “America First” policy, that it is also in the U.S.’s interest to uphold free trade and exercise leadership in multilateral cooperation.

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