In statement to WTO, U.S. urges Japan to further open up auto, farm markets

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

In a statement submitted to the World Trade Organization on Wednesday, the United States urged Japan to more widely open up its automobile and agricultural markets to foreign competitors, saying Tokyo should “take new, bold steps” to remove regulations and nontariff barriers to trade.

The statement indicates the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is likely to focus on the auto and agricultural sectors in the upcoming economic dialogue to be overseen by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

“In particular, the United States has expressed strong concerns for years about the overall lack of access to Japan’s automotive market for U.S. automotive companies, due to nontariff barriers,” the U.S. claimed in the statement submitted to WTO headquarters in Geneva.

“The United States urges Japan to remove non-tariff barriers that impede U.S. manufacturers’ ability to compete on a level playing field with their Japanese competitors, both in the area of automobiles and beyond.

“Another priority for the U.S. is agriculture. Although Japan is the fourth-largest single-country market for U.S. agricultural products, substantial market access barriers still remain,” the statement read.

In response, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tokyo believed the Japanese auto market “has been sufficiently opened up.”

Suga said that Japan, unlike the U.S., imposed no tariffs on imported automobiles from foreign countries. The Japanese market has no nontariff barriers, either, Suga claimed.

Japanese officials and business leaders have been critical of Trump’s argument that Japan’s automobile market unfairly excludes foreign automakers, particularly because the number of autos imported from Europe has continued to increase in recent years.

The top government spokesman, meanwhile, pointed out that the U.S. submitted the statement as part of an annual trade policy review of Japan by WTO members and that the U.S. made similar arguments in the 2015 review.

“At any rate, such issues will be addressed through Japan-U.S. economic dialogue” to be held between Aso and Pence, Suga told a news conference Friday morning.

On Feb. 10, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump met in Washington and agreed to set up the economic dialogue forum. Aso and Pence were named to lead it.

Japanese government sources said the forum was set up to avoid any possible direct clashes between Abe and Trump on sensitive economic issues, with their deputies designated to deal with the issues.

Aso and Pence may meet as soon as next month in Tokyo, where they will begin dialogue talks.

According to Suga, Aso and Pence are now set to discuss three economic areas: economic policies, cooperation in public infrastructure, energy development and other areas, and rules for trade and investment.

The Japanese side hopes to focus on measures to help the U.S. increase public infrastructure such as railways and thereby help Japanese firms win contracts.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration may try to focus more on opening up the Japanese market.