By Fukunari Kimura, professor at Keio University
(Interviewed by Ryuichi Kanari)
U.S. President Donald Trump posted a barrage of tweets on trade issues even after arriving in Japan. It is obvious that he is trying to deliver results in an appeal to his domestic supporters ahead of the presidential election in the fall of 2020. It is possible that President Trump will seek “results” not only by asking Japan to expand its imports of U.S. agricultural products but also by restricting its auto exports to the U.S. because the latter will be the most effective way to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with Japan. Quantitative restrictions, however, distort free trade more than anything else. Japan will probably reject them by saying they are against the rules of the World Trade Organization, but it remains to be seen whether that will settle the matter.
President Trump has been relaxing the rules-based trade system on a global scale without paying attention to international criticism. In the renegotiation of the U.S.-South Korea free-trade agreement, South Korea accepted quantitative restrictions on steel exports surprisingly quickly. Maybe the U.S. linked the negotiations to security issues such as North Korea and forced South Korea to accept the deal. Japan is also in a difficult position as it needs to maintain a good relationship with the U.S. for security reasons.