Legislation enacted in the Diet last week nearly completes the domestic procedure that Japan needs to take for the launch of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, which was revised after the United States pulled out. On Sunday, a ministerial meeting in Tokyo of 16 countries negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), including Japan, China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, agreed to expedite the talks that are aimed at achieving a broad agreement by the end of the year.

It is significant that progress is being made for multinational free trade arrangements at a time when the global economic order is under threat from the protectionist moves by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. Japan, as a key U.S. ally whose economy thrives on the free trade architecture, should play a leadership role to facilitate the multilateral free trade agreements both to counter the unilateral trade actions by the Trump administration — which have led some U.S. trading partners to take retaliatory steps, raising the specter of a global trade war — and to press the U.S. to embrace once again a multinational approach to free trade.

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