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Japan's economy minister says Trump looking for quick deal

Zerbor/iStock/GettyImagesPlus Representatives of the USA and Japan shake hands
The new trade negotiations will have limited scope.

by Connor Cislo and Emi Urabe

The limited scope of new trade negotiations between Japan and the U.S. points to a desire for a quick deal from President Donald Trump, former Japanese economy minister Akira Amari said in an interview. 

And because "Trump is a person who judges things by his own sense of priorities and intuition," it won’t be possible to come to an agreement based on logic and evidence-based analysis, he said.

U.S. farmers will be at a disadvantage when the new 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement take effect next year, and Trump -- who pulled the U.S. out of the TPP -- likely wants to make sure they aren’t left out in the cold, according to Amari.

"They’re probably hoping for a quick resolution, so they agreed to limit the items under discussion quite a bit," he said of the U.S. side on Thursday.

Amari was the top Japanese negotiator in the original TPP trade agreement, and a key driver of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies as minister until early 2016, when he stepped aside because of graft scandal.

Abe and Trump agreed to open limited bilateral trade talks. Japan had resisted U.S. efforts at a more comprehensive bilateral trade deal, saying it preferred that the U.S. return to the TPP.

The two leaders agreed to work to increase car production and auto-related jobs in the U.S., and that Japan wouldn’t be pressed to offer better access to its agricultural markets than it did under the original TPP. Trump also agreed not to place tariffs on imports of Japanese cars while the talks are taking place. The talks, limited to trade in goods, are aimed at seeking to "produce early achievements," according to a joint statement released by the White House. 

Amari also said Trump’s focus on selling autos in Japan is misplaced, noting that Japan does not levy tariffs on auto imports, unlike the U.S. He said Japanese consumers simply don’t want American cars, making talks on the subject "pointless." 

As Trump takes on China’s trade practices, it’s still possible that he brings the U.S. back to the TPP, given that it addresses many of the U.S. concerns -- such intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers and state-owned enterprises, Amari said.

"But that’s just my modest hope," he said. "I’d put the odds at less than 50 percent."

To contact the reporters on this story: Connor Cislo in Tokyo at [email protected] ;Emi Urabe in Tokyo at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brett Miller at [email protected] Henry Hoenig

© 2018 Bloomberg L.P

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