Trump calls on Abe to abolish tariffs on U.S. farm produce, determined to reach agreement on bilateral trade talks

WASHINGTON, April 28 – In a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on April 26 (April 27 Japan time) at the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump pushed Japan to end tariffs on U.S. agricultural products in the bilateral trade talks.

Trump expressed determination to reach an agreement, indicating a deal might be reached by late May.

Tokyo reiterated the need to proceed with the talks based on the joint statement issued by the two countries last September which stated that “with regard to agricultural, forestry, and fishery products, outcomes related to market access as reflected in Japan’s previous economic partnership agreements constitute the maximum level.”

The Japanese officials said there were no discussions between the leaders on the specific schedule for signing a deal, but Trump’s aggressive approach suggests the two nations will be engaged in hard-bargaining negotiations.

Abe and Trump first held a one-on-one meeting with only interpreters present. Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s chief trade negotiator, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer later joined the meeting to discuss trade issues.

“We’ll be discussing very strongly agriculture because, as the prime minister knows, Japan puts very massive tariffs on agriculture, our agriculture, for many years, going into Japan, and we want to get rid of those tariffs,” Trump said at the beginning of the meeting with Abe.

Trump also said the agricultural levies are unfair “because we don’t tariff their cars.” Abe disputed Trump’s account, saying the U.S. imposes a 2.5 percent tariff on Japanese autos. The U.S. had agreed to abolish the auto tariff gradually over a long period under the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which the country has withdrawn from.

Abe stressed that Japanese companies, including automakers, have made massive amount of investments in the U.S., creating jobs for U.S. workers. “We hope to proceed with the negotiations for the benefit of both countries,” Abe said.

Referring to the bilateral trade negotiations that started on April 15, Trump said the talks were “moving along very nicely” and suggested a deal might be reached by the time of his visit to Japan that starts on May 25. “I think it can go fairly quickly. Maybe by the time I’m over there, maybe we sign it over there,” the president said.

Asked about Trump’s remarks at a news conference after the meeting, Motegi said: “Since the negotiations are proceeding smoothly, I understand that he expressed his hope that the deal will be reached as quickly as possible.”

Regarding tariffs on farm products, Motegi said that he and Lighthizer “reaffirmed our stance that future negotiations will be conducted based on the joint statement.”

“President Trump did not mention anything in the meeting that goes beyond (commitments made in) the TPP agreement,” Motegi said, strongly denying the possibility of Japan opening its markets beyond the TPP provisions.

<Analysis> Japan should stand firm against U.S.’ aggressive approach

U.S. President Donald Trump’s unreasonable demand to open Japan’s agriculture market shows that even after the first round of negotiations between Japan and the United States, the prospects of the bilateral trade talks remain unclear.

The U.S. expressed strong determination to seek a swift agreement with Japan, but accepting a high level of farm market liberalization is out of question. The Japanese government should maintain a firm stance never to let the U.S. take control of the negotiations.

One of the reasons why the U.S. is so eager to reach a deal is a growing pressure from U.S. farm lobby groups. U.S. farmers, who are put at a huge disadvantage regarding exports to Japan after the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement took effect without the U.S., have been calling for a quick resolution to the issue.

The other reason is because the U.S. government’s trade policies – including trade talks with China and getting the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) approved by Congress to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – are hitting roadblocks.

Trump’s strong demands against Japan is also seen as his eagerness to win a signature achievement before the 2020 presidential election. This can also mean that even if chief negotiators of the two countries shared the same recognition, it can be overturned at the summit talks.

Trump and Abe are having a rare opportunity of holding meetings three months in a row between April and June. As the presidential election nears, Trump is likely to become even harsher and could threaten to increase tariffs on cars from Japan or introduce an import quota.

Even so, there is no reason for Japan to make compromises in the farm sector. In order to secure domestic agricultural production, Japan should flatly reject hard-line demands.

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