OSAKA – For Kansai business leaders, Asia, particularly East Asia, has long been far more important economically than the United States.
So it was understandable when they reacted coolly to Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election, with some suggesting it was time to start entertaining the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement without the U.S.
Yet while senior executives at major corporations who stand to hugely benefit from the trade deal are unhappy, most small and midsize firms who either do business domestically or primarily in non-American markets, remain ambivalent. Many say they expect Trump’s election to have little, if any, impact on the Kansai region, at least in the short term.
Still, at a news conference earlier this month, the Osaka branch manager of the Bank of Japan, Atsushi Miyanoya, sounded hopeful, saying that Trump as U.S. president could be a plus for Japan because of his promise to rebuild America’s infrastructure and reduce taxes.
“If the U.S. economy is revitalized, this will lead to a positive effect on those Kansai firms that export to the U.S. or have production facilities there,” Miyanoya said.
In the immediate aftermath of the election, Kansai’s top business leaders all expressed concern over Trump’s fierce opposition to the TPP. He even said last week that he would cancel it on his first day in office.
“Trump should aim for economic development under open markets by participating in the TPP and revise his closed economic policy,” said Hiroyuki Suzuki, head of the Kansai Association of Corporate Executives (Kansai Keizai Doyukai), in a statement after the election.
But a week later, when it became clear TPP would not be voted on by the U.S. Congress due to Trump’s victory and opposition in both the Republican and Democratic parties over its final wording, Suzuki suggested it was time to pursue the TPP without its leader.
“First, let’s discuss an agreement without the U.S. It’s fine if they want to join later,” Suzuki told the Kansai Press Club on Nov. 16.
Trump announced last week the U.S. would withdraw from the TPP when he assumes office.
Trump’s victory comes at a time when exports from the Kansai region to the U.S. are down nearly 13 percent over the past year, according to data released by the trade ministry’s regional bureau last week.
But smaller firms that deal with either the domestic market or other markets in Asia were more concerned with economic conditions closer to home.
“Those in the local retail and service industries in particular are probably more worried about an economic downturn in, or political problems with, Asian countries that could mean fewer tourists coming to Kansai,” said Tatsuya Uchida, who works for a tour company in Osaka.
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