Two distinct styles of international leadership were on display last week. In one case, U.S. President Donald Trump imposed steep tariffs on steel and aluminum to help restore his country's steel producers. In the other, economic officials from 11 countries signed a trade agreement that set rules and standards and help forge a trans-Pacific economic community. The former is a backward-looking effort that threatens a trade war and mutual impoverishment. The latter anticipates rising living standards for all participants. We applaud the trans-Pacific leaders with vision and hope that U.S. policymakers come to their senses.
Trump followed through on his announcement earlier this month to impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports. After warning that there would be no exceptions, Trump has since said that he is prepared to be "very flexible." Mexico and Canada are the first recipients of that newfound generosity: The U.S. president said that tariffs on their exports to the U.S. would depend on the fate of negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement. Australia — "a great country" and a "long-term partner" said Trump — may get relief, as could other U.S. security partners.
Japan should be on that list. Punishing Japan makes no sense. Foreign Minister Taro Kono said the tariff decision was "regrettable" and will likely have a "big impact" on economic ties between the two countries. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga pointed out that Japanese steel and aluminum shipments are no threat to U.S. national security and they have contributed greatly to employment and industry in the U.S. In a statement, Kono also said that Japan would respond "upon careful scrutinization of the impact on Japanese companies and the relationship with the WTO Agreement."