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Editorial: Japan’s ability to block protective trade being put to the test

At the Japan-U.S. summit on June 7, it was agreed that the first meeting of the new “free, fair, and reciprocal” (FFR) trade talks will be held in July. Economic Revitalization Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer will spearhead the effort.


The United States probably wants to enter into negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA), which would be favorable to it, but we can’t have the U.S. bending the principles of free trade. Japan must not make compromises easily; it must endeavor to prevent protective trade.


At the recent Japan-U.S. summit, a lot of time was spent on North Korea. It seems that the two leaders refrained from going into trade issues. Despite that, President Donald Trump did not forget to demand rectification of the trade imbalance through bilateral negotiations at the joint press conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.


The United States has imposed import restrictions on steel and aluminum in the name of national security. It has started to mull applying them on automobiles as well. In exchange for removing Japan from these sanctions, it likely plans to press for voluntary restrictions on exports to the United States and enhanced monitoring of the yen exchange rate.


America’s unilateral imposition of import restrictions is a dangerous action that could set off a trade war with major countries. Following the example of the European Union (EU) and Canada, Japan should boldly seek to have the U.S. remove the restrictions by appealing to the World Trade Organization (WTO).


It is unpardonable that the United States should use this as a bargaining chip in the new trade talks. It is unacceptable for the U.S. to use tools of controlled trade such as export restrictions. We would like to see Japan promote bilateral negotiations based on the standards and rules in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement while urging the United States to return to that multilateral pact.


Unfortunately, it looks like Prime Minister Abe took a weak stance on blocking President Trump’s protective trade. The Prime Minister may have avoided provoking Trump with trade issues in order to have the President raise the issue of the Japanese abductions at the first-ever U.S.-DPRK summit scheduled for June 12.


The EU and Canada, though, are openly critical of America’s protective trade and are moving toward countermeasures. It is sad that only Japan can’t say things because it is sensitive to America’s mood. At the G7 summit to be held on June 8–9, Prime Minister Abe also should press President Trump to make a course correction.  

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