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Editorial: Trade agreement that benefits both Japan, U.S. needed / Affirm significance of ties for peace, stability

  • April 28, 2019
  • , The Japan News , 07:26 p.m.
  • English Press
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Japan and the United States must strive for the stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region, while maintaining a firm relationship. It is greatly significant that the leaders of the two countries affirmed the importance of close cooperation.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met U.S. President Donald Trump for summit talks, and they agreed to accelerate new bilateral trade negotiations.

The United States has strained relations with China and Europe mainly due to prolonged trade friction. If a rift also occurs in the Japan-U.S. relationship, the global economy’s uncertainty about the future could increase further. The fact that the two leaders did not bring to the surface conflicts over trade issues, among other matters, can be said to be appropriate.

Unpredictable outcome

Abe stressed at the talks that Japan and the United States should proceed with negotiations that would be win-win for them both. His remarks show his willingness to establish rules that will contribute to the growth of both countries.

Japan and the United States account for about 30 percent of the global gross domestic product. It is hoped that the two countries will strengthen the framework of free trade. It is important to hold a vigorous series of ministerial-level talks to work toward realizing an early conclusion of a bilateral trade pact.

How the negotiations will unfold remains unpredictable, because there are still distinct differences in opinion between Tokyo and Washington.

At the summit talks, Trump said, “Maybe by the time I’m over there [in Japan in late May],” referring to when the trade negotiations could be concluded. He probably intends to produce results at an early date with an eye on the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Meanwhile, Japan hopes to reach an agreement after the House of Councillors election this summer. This is because depending on the content of the deal, there are fears it may invite a backlash from those engaged in the agricultural sector. It is necessary to pay attention so that gaps in their motives will not have an adverse impact on future negotiations.

Trump showed strong dissatisfaction with the trade of U.S. agricultural and livestock products, saying, “Japan puts very massive tariffs on agriculture.”

As a result of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement coming into effect, among other reasons, U.S. products are at a disadvantage in terms of exports to Japan. There may therefore be demands on Japan to open up its markets beyond TPP levels as the negotiations develop.

The TPP is a framework that was formed after participating countries went through complex negotiations to coordinate their interests. For this reason, the United States, which withdrew from the TPP, should not be allowed to gain more favorable terms than the TPP member states. If Washington demands the early conclusion of a trade pact, it should compromise to the same degree as the TPP member states did in the negotiations.

Abe explained that Japanese automakers’ investment in the United States has contributed to economic growth and the expansion of job opportunities in the United States, citing specific figures.

Mend rift in G20

The automotive field accounts for most of the U.S. trade deficit with Japan. During the latest talks, Trump is said to have shown that he is obstinate about seeking reductions in the trade deficit. Concern cannot be dispelled about how properly he understood the prime minister’s explanations.

It is vital to remain wary about the possibility that Trump will call for punitive tariffs and quantitative restrictions on Japanese car exports.

If he advances proposals that could distort free trade and violate international rules, it is crucial to resolutely reject them.

In June, the prime minister is scheduled to chair a summit meeting of the Group of 20 major economies in Osaka. In the latest talks, he reached an agreement with Trump to cooperate in forming a consensus in the upcoming G20 meeting.

The Trump administration has continued to make light of multilateral talks and disrupt concerted efforts among major nations. The G20 summit talks, held at the end of last year, failed to include the words “fight protectionism” in its declaration due to objections from the United States, a development that left an even greater schism among these countries.

The G20 is a forum for major nations to tackle global challenges. Japan should play a leading role in restoring unity among the G20 members.

Trump must be actively engaged in discussions at the G20 meeting, thereby trying to rebuild a framework of cooperation among them. The prime minister should continue urging him to do so.

Remain committed

At the latest talks, both leaders confirmed that Japan, the United States and South Korea will continue to cooperate in the effort to completely denuclearize North Korea.

After a second U.S.-North Korea summit meeting failed to arrive at an agreement, Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, has continued to take actions as a check against the United States, using China and Russia as supporters.

In consideration of this situation, it is of no small significance that the Japanese and U.S. leaders adjusted their opinions regarding a line of policy toward negotiations with the North.

What is important is maintaining pressure on North Korea until preliminary arrangements have been made for that nation’s denuclearization. It is necessary to urge other nations to implement the resolutions adopted by the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Pyongyang.

The prime minister conveyed his gratitude to Trump for his action of raising the issue of North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals at the U.S.-North Korea summit meeting.

The prime minister has shown an eagerness to hold direct dialogue with Kim. The issues of abductions by North Korea, and its nuclear and missile programs, must be resolved first and foremost, a task vital for paving the way toward diplomatic normalization between Japan and North Korea. That will also make it possible for Japan to extend economic assistance to the North. The prime minister must tell Pyongyang that such a process must be adopted, while also tenaciously urging North Korea to make concessions.

Abe and Trump also agreed to further increase the deterrent power of the Japan-U.S. alliance. Efforts should be made to promote bilateral defense cooperation in such new fields as space and cyber-security.

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