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Editorial: Japan-U.S. talks must not distort principles of free trade

Japan and the United States have completed their first round of new trade talks (FFR [free, fair, and reciprocal talks]). The U.S. pressed for bilateral negotiations with an eye to concluding a free trade agreement (FTA) with Japan, whereas Japan sought to have the U.S. return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact. Agreements on specific issues were postponed, as the two countries were unable to bridge the gap between them.


The two nations plan to hold their next round of negotiations by the end of the September, but the talks must not bend the principles of free trade. They should search for constructive import/export promotion measures and avert the imposition of high tariffs on Japanese autos, a measure now under consideration by the U.S.


FFR is the framework agreed upon at the Japan-U.S. summit meeting held in April, and the talks are being spearheaded by Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. At the first round of talks held on Aug. 9–10, the delegates agreed to expand fields of cooperation to promote trade between Japan and the U.S.


The United States aims to press for access to Japan’s agricultural market by initiating bilateral talks. It is very likely that Washington will try to extract concessions from Tokyo by hinting at the imposition of auto tariffs citing the reason of national security.  


If the United States levies high tariffs not just on steel and aluminum but on autos as well, it could deal a serious blow to the world economy. The United States should refrain from doing this, and we do not approve of tariffs being used as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Japan.


We also cannot approve of rushing to rectify the trade imbalance and pressing Japan to voluntarily restrict exports and agree to numerical targets for imports. Regulated trade that violates market mechanisms must be strictly avoided.


It is fine for Japan to persistently urge the U.S. to return to the TPP, but it does not look like the U.S. is getting on board with the idea. We would like to see the talks carefully consider what kinds of cooperation are possible without deviating from TPP standards and rules.


We welcome Japan and the U.S. joining together to rectify China’s infringement of intellectual property rights and to reform the World Trade Organization (WTO). We would like to see the talks seek resolutions to international commerce issues and not just bilateral trade issues.


We are concerned that efforts to expand the free-trade zone could be delayed as Japan is pressed to handle FFR [talks]. Japan must endeavor to bring into force as soon as possible the “TPP 11,” which is composed of 11 members excluding the United States, and the economic partnership agreement (EPA) concluded with the European Union (EU). Japan must also lead negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to a successful conclusion.


It is, of course, important to maintain good relations with the United States by reducing friction. Japan’s responsibilities do not end there; it also has a duty to prevent the worldwide spread of protective trade.

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