Trump raps Japan for ‘substantial edge’ in trade

Within two hours of landing in Japan yesterday as the first state guest of the Reiwa (beautiful harmony) imperial era, United States President Donald Trump rapped his host for its “substantial edge” over his country in trade, calling for parity and more investment.

He told a dinner with top Japanese executives from such companies as Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Softbank and Rakuten in the audience that there has never been a better time to invest in the US.

“It’s my sincere hope that in the Reiwa era, economic ties between the United States and Japan continue to grow deeper and stronger, if that’s possible,” he said.

He said he hoped to make a “big” announcement on trade in the next few months: “With this deal we hope to address the trade imbalance, removing barriers to United States exports and ensure fairness and reciprocity in our relationship.

“Japan has had a substantial edge for many, many years, but that’s okay. Maybe that’s why you like us so much,” he said.

Mr Trump is in Japan for a largely ceremonial four-day state visit, invited by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as the first state guest of the new era. Mr Abe compared the honour of being the first foreign leader to have a reception with the newly crowned Emperor as “100 times bigger than the Super Bowl”.

Mr Trump, on his part, said last Thursday: “With all the countries of the world, I’m the guest of honour at the biggest event that they’ve had in over 200 years. So it’s a great thing. And we get along very well with Japan. I get along very well with the Prime Minister.”

Still, Japan’s trade surplus of US$67.6 billion (S$93 billion) with the US last year is a major pet peeve for Mr Trump, whose threat to raise car tariffs to 25 per cent on national security grounds has left many bureaucrats in Tokyo bewildered. The US also wants greater access to Japanese agricultural produce in line with the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that Mr Trump jettisoned, while Japan is pushing for the removal of US tariffs on industrial products.

Mr Trump recently agreed to a six-month delay to the car tariff hike, which will tide Mr Abe over an Upper House election in July. But if effected, the hike will inevitably cripple the Japanese car industry and, in turn, hurt an economy that surprised analysts by growing 2.1 per cent in the first quarter.

Japan’s chief trade negotiator, Mr Toshimitsu Motegi, and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer met yesterday evening but both sides remained at odds.

“So far, Japan and the US haven’t gained common ground. We will work to bridge the gap,” Mr Motegi reportedly said after their talks.

Today, Mr Abe and Mr Trump will play golf, watch a sumo wrestling tournament and have dinner at an izakaya, a Japanese pub.

Tomorrow, Mr Trump will have an audience with Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako before a meeting with Mr Abe, where North Korea, security and trade will be on the agenda.

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