New York: US President Donald Trump said he may announce something on a US-Japan trade agreement in August, hinting he will push for results well in advance of the six-month deadline he laid out earlier this month.
A senior official in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration told reporters the two leaders had reached no such agreement on timing during their summit in Tokyo Monday, which followed Trump’s threat to raise tariffs on the approximately $50 billion (Dh183 billion) worth of cars and auto parts Japan exported to the US annually.
Trump, who has chided Japan for its bilateral trade surplus, is seeking greater access to the world’s third-largest economy for American farmers. Before formal discussions with Abe in Tokyo, Trump told reporters “a lot of very positive things are happening on trade.
“Trade-wise, I think we will be announcing some things probably in August that will be very good for both countries,” Trump said. “We have to do a little catching up with Japan because they’ve been doing much more business with us. We’d like to do a little more business in the reverse.”
But Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura, who was present for the summit, told reporters afterward there had been “absolutely no” agreement on getting the trade deal done by August.
Trump on Monday became the first foreign head of state to meet new Emperor Naruhito, who ascended the Chrysanthemum throne on May 1. He was greeted with an honour guard and was the guest of honour at a state dinner later in the day.
Japan is seeking to stay in Trump’s good graces to avoid costly tariffs and retain positive relations with an ally that ensures its security against the likes of China and North Korea. Trump on Monday also supported Abe playing a role in facilitating talks with Iran as tensions rise in the Middle East.
Abe told a press conference earlier he and Trump had agreed to further accelerate talks, aiming for a swift, win-win result. He reiterated the discussions would be based on a joint statement last September, under which Japan will not be required to offer more access to its farm markets than it has done under existing trade deals.
Abe also emphasised Japanese companies’ contributions to the US economy, which he said were greater than those of any other country.
After almost three hours of talks with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Tokyo on Saturday, Japan Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said they hadn’t discussed contentious issues such as US threats to restrict Japanese car exports and apply a currency clause.
Japan is expected to hold elections for the upper house in July, and many have predicted the government will take the opportunity to dissolve the more powerful lower house at the same time. It will be politically difficult for Abe to concede anything, particularly on agriculture, ahead of the vote.
Trump last week declared that imported cars represented a threat to US national security but announced a six-month delay in imposing tariffs on imported vehicles and parts from Japan and other nations in order to pursue negotiations.
At a dinner with Japanese business leaders Saturday shortly after his arrival in Tokyo, Trump sought out one who had recently criticised the US leader.
Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp., was among Japan’s top executives who met Trump soon after he arrived in Japan for his four-day visit. Earlier this month, Toyoda criticised Trump’s declaration that imported cars and components threaten US national security, saying it sent a message to Toyota that its decades of investments in the US aren’t welcomed.