WASHINGTON – Finance Minister Taro Aso on Friday sounded a cautious note about the potential benefits of striking a bilateral trade deal with the United States, saying it would not necessarily give Washington better terms than the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership accord, from which it recently withdrew.
“There is no guarantee that the United States can get better conditions on a bilateral basis than under the TPP,” Aso told a news conference after the conclusion of a meeting of Group of 20 finance chiefs in Washington.
“We believe the TPP is a good system for the United States and Japan,” Aso said, expressing his view that both countries need to discuss what would be best for them.
U.S. President Donald Trump is seeking to promote bilateral trade deals instead of multilateral ones. Trump has pulled the United States out of the 12-nation TPP, diminishing the possibility that it will take effect in its current form.
After the first round of a Japan-U.S. economic dialogue earlier in the week, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence expressed hope that it will lead to negotiations for a bilateral trade agreement.
Japanese officials have been cautious about such a pact amid concern that the United States would push Japan harder to boost imports of cars and agricultural products.
Asked about going ahead with the TPP without the United States, Aso said there is “no reason” for Japan to reject the idea. “I understand we will be considering it as one of the options,” he said.
Japan and some other Pacific nations are preparing to discuss in Vietnam next month the possibility of going ahead with an 11-member TPP, Aso said Wednesday in New York.
A ministerial meeting of TPP signatories is expected to take place alongside the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam in late May.
The TPP can only take effect in its current form if it is ratified by at least six members representing 85 percent of the combined gross domestic product of the original 12 signatories. The United States alone accounts for 60 percent of the group’s total GDP.
The 11 signatories of the TPP are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.