BIARRITZ, FRANCE – U.S. President Donald Trump said Sunday that a “very big” trade deal with Japan is expected soon as he held talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the southwest French town of Biarritz.
“We are working on one and we are fairly close,” Trump said at the outset of his meeting with Abe, adding that if it gets done, it will be a “very big deal.”
Abe, sitting alongside Trump, said he hopes to have “productive” discussions, as the two countries look to close a bilateral deal in September.
Setting the stage for the summit, top Japanese and U.S. negotiators on Friday broadly agreed on the outline of a trade deal in Washington after trying to formulate a structure that can benefit both economies and satisfy Trump, who has taken issue with his country’s hefty trade deficit with Japan.
The summit again offered their differing views on North Korea’s recent missile launches.
When asked about Pyongyang’s flurry of short-range missile tests, most recently on Saturday, Trump said, “I’m not happy about it. But again he’s not been in violation of an agreement,” referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Abe, however, said its short-range ballistic missile launches are in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, calling them “extremely regrettable.”
On trade, Trump’s preference for bilateral agreements has threatened the viability of some multilateral arrangements. Washington’s abrupt withdrawal in 2017 from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, which entered into force in late 2018 with 11 members following revisions, is one example.
When Japan agreed about a year ago to launch negotiations for a trade deal with the United States, it was largely interpreted as Abe acquiescing to Trump.
The Abe-Trump meeting was held on the sidelines of a Group of Seven summit in the French resort town where attending world leaders are faced with the reality that finding a united front may be a tall order due to rifts between the United States and other members over trade, Iran and other global issues.
Under the envisaged trade deal, Japan’s tariff cuts on U.S. farm products will not be deeper than those under existing frameworks such as the TPP, which also involves such countries as Australia and Canada.
But Japan is unlikely to secure the elimination of U.S. tariffs on cars and auto parts it had sought in the bilateral negotiations, even as levies on many other industrial products will be scrapped, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The United States has urged Japan to cut tariffs on American farm products such as beef and pork, believing the TPP has put its producers at an unfair disadvantage compared to their foreign rivals.
As in the revised TPP, formally known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, Japan’s 38.5 percent tariff on U.S. beef imports will be lowered in stages to 9 percent, according to the sources.
A final agreement with Japan may be good news for Trump heading into the 2020 presidential election as the U.S.-China trade war has only intensified and any potential resolution or bilateral trade deal looks unlikely to be confirmed anytime soon.
Besides trade and North Korea, rising tensions in the Middle East due to the United States’ withdrawal from a landmark 2015 Iranian nuclear deal was also seen as high on the agenda of the Abe-Trump summit.
The U.S. president might have also touched on the worsening diplomatic ties between Japan and South Korea, which were demonstrated by the recent termination of a bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact that has served as a key arrangement in countering the North Korean missile threat.
Abe and Trump were expected to exchange views on the Middle East, where the United States is encouraging allies, including Japan, to join its coalition to protect ships from Iranian threats in the Strait of Hormuz.
Japan, which maintains friendly ties with Iran, has not clarified its stance on whether it will join the initiative. Meanwhile, Iran is struggling under U.S. sanctions re-imposed by Trump.
But Tokyo has continued to call for dialogue to defuse increased tensions that have come in the wake of the U.S.-Iran standoff over the nuclear accord which was struck between Tehran and six major countries to curb the Middle Eastern nation’s nuclear program in return for lifting sanctions.