US and Japan Closer to Trade Deal After Trump-Abe Meeting

President Donald J. Trump meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday, April 26, 2019, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Image: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
President Donald J. Trump meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday, April 26, 2019, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Image: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

On April 26 and 27, U.S. President Donald Trump hosted his Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at the White House for bilateral trade talks, announcing that the two countries may come to a deal in May.

At a press conference on April 26 before starting the talks, Trump told reporters that a deal could “go fairly quickly.” He and first lady Melania Trump will travel to Japan in late May to visit the new Japanese emperor, Naruhito.

During the summit, Abe reportedly promised Trump that Japan would cooperate on pursuing a quick deal, according to Japan’s Nikkei Asian Review.

The late-April talks stem from an agreement Trump and Abe made last September to begin negotiations for a free trade agreement between the two countries. Earlier in April, Japanese and U.S. representatives held a new round of talks in Washington, according to The Epoch Times. The talks focus on resolving issues related to agriculture and the auto industry.

Trump was keen on inking a deal as soon as possible, Nikkei reported. “Tokyo understood that the president was looking for a clear achievement in trade negotiations ahead of the U.S. presidential election cycle that kicks into full force early next year.”

Japanese officials familiar with the details of the talks leading up to the summit said that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer had urged the Japanese trade negotiator, Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, to “announce something this time around,” according to Nikkei.

According to reports, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (Image: USDA Photo by Tomasina Brown) urged the Japanese trade negotiator, Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, to “announce something this time around.” (Image: World Economic Forum/CC BY-SA 2.0)

According to reports, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (Image: USDA Photo by Tomasina Brown) urged the Japanese trade negotiator, Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, to “announce something this time around.” (Image: World Economic Forum / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Nikkei noted that the timing was of crucial importance to Trump, given his administration’s ongoing negotiations with China, which have been dragging out “longer than expected.” The Japanese economic publication suggested that making a deal with Japan could be seen as a “low-hanging fruit” for Washington.

“We agreed to accelerate the talks,” the Japanese prime minister told reporters after the summit, referring to the negotiations between Lighthizer and Motegi.

One sticking point for the Trump administration is the high tariffs that Japan imposes on American farmers.

“There is significant concern among the U.S. agriculture industry that its market share in Japan will be taken by Australia, which faces lower tariffs on farm product exports thanks to the Trans Pacific Partnership,” former Japanese ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki told Nikkei.

On the other side, Japan’s own agricultural sector, which benefits from the existing protectionism, has been an important base of political support for Abe, who is preparing for elections in the Japanese upper house this summer.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan speaks with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House. (Image: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan speaks with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House. (Image: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

During the meeting with Trump, Abe listed examples of new Japanese farming and auto investments in red states. He said that Japanese companies had invested a total of US$23 billion into the U.S. since Trump came to office.

“Japan is ranked number one for its investment to the United States, as well as the number of jobs it creates in the United States,” the prime minister stated.

“I appreciate it,” Trump responded.

According to Nikkei, official Japan-U.S. negotiations had been held up due to Washington’s intense back-and-forth trade talks with China. It would be a “quick conclusion” were Trump and Abe to reach a deal this September, when the Japanese prime minister is expected to visit the United States to attend the UN General Assembly.

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