National / Politics

Abe and Macron agree to coordinate ahead of G20, while tiptoeing around Ghosn and Nissan

Kyodo, Bloomberg

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed Tuesday to coordinate closely in addressing global economic, trade and environmental issues before Japan hosts the Group of 20 summit in June.

They also agreed on bilateral cooperation to set international rules on trading of goods and services that involves the transfer of data, referred to as data trading.

The two leaders have confirmed plans to cooperate on pushing for reforms at the World Trade Organization to fight protectionism, and on maintaining U.N. sanctions against North Korea aimed at inducing Pyongyang’s denuclearization, Japanese government officials said after the meeting.

Abe said the auto alliance between Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. should be adjusted in a way that’s acceptable to both sides. Nissan is widely seen as reluctant to merge as proposed by its French peer.

At a joint press appearance before their talks, Abe promised that Japan will help France repair Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris following a major fire last week.

“It’s heartbreaking to see the damage done to the World Heritage site which represents history and culture in which France takes pride,” Abe said. “The Japanese government will extend unwavering support for its restoration.”

Abe chose France, which holds this year’s presidency of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, as the first stop of his six-nation European and North American trip.

He hopes to rally support for a successful G20 summit in Osaka as Japan aims to demonstrate joint efforts toward fostering economic growth, tackling marine plastic debris and drawing up rules for the use of big data.

“I hope that the G20 will send out a strong message that we will be united” to promote free trade and tackle global issues such as climate change.

Macron said he will visit Japan to attend the G20 summit, which will be his first trip to the nation since taking office.

“We have the shared ambition of rebuilding trust in international cooperation,” said Macron, who is set to host the G7 summit in August.

Multilateral frameworks, including those of the WTO, have come under scrutiny as U.S. President Donald Trump questions their relevance and pursues an “America First” agenda.

Japan and France have been deepening bilateral ties in recent years, particularly in the field of maritime security amid China’s growing clout.

France wants to explore more specific industrial and security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, Macron said.

Given that France has island territories in the Pacific, such as New Caledonia, Japanese officials say Tokyo and Paris share a need to achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific region based on freedom of navigation and the rule of law.

The summit was held as Japanese investigators continue to detain Carlos Ghosn, the former boss of Renault and its alliance partner Nissan Motor Co., for alleged financial misconduct at Nissan. Ghosn was indicted for the fourth time Monday and has already spent months behind bars despite once being granted bail.

Macron said France would remain “very vigilant” about Ghosn’s treatment in Japan. The auto titan’s wife, Carole, has called it shameful.

Ghosn is “entitled to the presumption of innocence and consular protection, like all French nationals,” Macron said in a statement Tuesday following a meeting with Abe. France respects the independence of the Japanese legal system, he added.

Carole Ghosn had earlier called on the French leader to raise the topic with Abe during their talks.

The two leaders also discussed the future of the relationship between Nissan and Renault.

“It’s important to maintain a stable alliance and strengthen it in a way that’s acceptable to the parties involved,” Abe was quoted by a Japanese official as telling Macron.

A French government official said the two leaders agreed to respect the corporate partnership.

Nissan rejected a fresh merger proposal from Renault earlier this month that reflected the desires of the French government, Renault’s biggest shareholder, sources familiar with the matter have said.

Renault, the largest stakeholder in Nissan, is seeking to further solidify the partnership. But executives at Nissan, which has a 15 percent stake without voting rights in its French peer, view that ratio as unfair, the sources said.