by Jennifer Jacobs and Yuko Takeo
President Donald Trump urged Japan to end tariffs on U.S. farm products when he met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who appears to have deflected the most damaging U.S. demands on trade weeks before the pair are likely to meet again during two upcoming Trump visits.
Trump pushed for the end of the Japanese agricultural levy, while not directly mentioning past threats of sanctions on automobiles. Abe raised the issue of existing U.S. tariffs on its cars and highlighted the growing number of jobs created in the U.S. by Japan’s investment.
“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 during an Oval Office meeting with Abe on Friday.
Trump told reporters at the White House that the agricultural levies are unfair “because we don’t tariff their cars.” Trump, though, praised Japanese automobile companies for investing in the U.S.
Abe disputed Trump’s account, saying the U.S. has put a 2.5% tariff on Japanese autos. The two leaders met as their senior negotiators wrapped up the second round in as many weeks of accelerated talks to reach a trade deal focused mainly on agriculture and cars.
Japan had dragged its feet on starting the talks for over two years in hopes the U.S. may return to the successor deal to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump withdrew the U.S. from during his first days in office. Other countries’ farmers have gotten preferential access to Japan as a result of deals Abe has struck with them since Trump pulled out of the TPP.
This week’s talks were mostly focused on confirming the content of the discussions last week.
Japan’s chief trade negotiator, Toshimitsu Motegi, signaled the country would seek substantial concessions from the U.S., saying any agreement could require American congressional approval. Trump had emphasized the speed at which he expects the talks to move forward by saying that a deal could be signed by the time he comes to Japan in May.
Motegi also said that Trump did not make any requests regarding restrictions on auto export volume, currencies and new types of services.
In Washington this week, Motegi met with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer while Finance Minister Taro Aso held separate discussions with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Aso said on Thursday that he told Mnuchin that Japan opposes linking currency policy to trade negotiations. The U.S. Trade Representative has included a provision on currencies in its list of negotiating goals with Japan, and the U.S. has included references to currency in several recent trade deals, including the successor to NAFTA, known as USMCA.
On Friday evening, Abe and Trump were scheduled to have a private dinner that would also be a birthday celebration for First Lady Melania Trump, who turned 49.
Abe has been among the American president’s favorite world leaders, and they’ve played golf on multiple occasions -- the latest round coming Saturday at Trump’s course in northern Virginia.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty told reporters on Saturday that Trump plans to attend the G20 leaders’ summit in Osaka in late June. He also said the two leaders this week discussed Japanese vehicle production in the U.S.
“I think that we will see, and the president expects that we’ll see, even more good news on that front,” Hagerty said.
Trump’s also scheduled to travel to Japan in late May, where he’s expected to be the first world leader to meet Japan’s new emperor, Crown Prince Naruhito, who ascends to the throne on May 1 after the abdication of Emperor Akihito.
--With assistance from Reade Pickert.
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