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Japan growing wary of U.S. hardline approach in trade talks

By Akinobu Oyanagi


Japan is growing increasingly wary that the Trump administration may step up its hardline approach in Japan-U.S. trade negotiations, as the U.S. imposed additional tariffs on Chinese goods on May 10 after it failed to find common ground with China in trade talks. Concerns are rife that President Trump may move to win quick results from Japan with an eye on the presidential election slated for next year in light of the impasse in U.S.-China trade talks. Japan wants to wait until after this summer’s Upper House elections to conclude the Japan-U.S. trade talks, but the government will be forced to deal with a difficult situation as President Trump is scheduled to visit Japan twice in a row in May and June.


At a press conference held on May 10, Minister of State for Economic Revitalization Toshimitsu Motegi, who oversees the Japan-U.S. trade negotiations, stressed that “our trade negotiations will not be affected,” when responding to a question asking about the possibility of U.S.-China talks having an influence on the Japan-U.S. talks.


Since a trade deal with the U.S. will include lowering tariffs on farm produce, Japan wants to put it off until after the Upper House elections to avert the impact on them. At a summit meeting held in April, Japan and the U.S. “agreed to accelerate trade talks.” It appears that the two sides are aiming to conclude the bilateral trade talks after the summer but before the presidential election next year.


After the Japan-U.S. summit in April, President Trump told reporters that Japan-U.S. relations on matters including trade talks are “going well.” According to a Japanese source close to the Japan-U.S. negotiations, Japan also has a positive feeling that they are moving along smoothly as the U.S. has not made excessively demands for the inclusion of a currency clause to ban currency devaluation.


Nonetheless, the view is spreading within the Japanese government that “you never know what Present Trump is going to say,” according to a senior government official. There are lingering concerns that the U.S. side may change its stance all of a sudden.


Japan envisions a scenario of reaffirming the conclusion of Japan-U.S. trade talks after the Upper House elections when Prime Minister Abe and President Trump meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit, which will be held in Osaka late June. It is also giving consideration to President Trump by aiming to reach a basic agreement by the end of the year since the presidential election is approaching.


Abe visits the U.S. in September every year to attend the United Nations General Assembly. A Japan-U.S. summit slated to take place in conjunction with this event may serve as a substantial turning point for the conclusion of Japan-U.S. trade talks.

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