Trump seeks end to Japan’s agriculture tariffs, in talks with Abe

Donald Trump (left) gives a thumbs up while standing with Shinzo Abe (right) at the West Wing of the White House. (Bloomberg pic)

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump urged Japan to drop its tariffs on US agricultural products as he sat down to meet with the country’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

“We’ll be discussing very strongly agriculture because as the prime minister knows Japan puts very massive tariffs on agriculture, our agriculture, for many years, going into Japan, and we want to get rid of those tariffs,” Trump said during an Oval Office meeting with Abe.

Trump told reporters at the White House that the agricultural levies are unfair “because we don’t tariff their cars.” At the same time, Trump praised Japanese automobile companies for investing in the US.

Abe disputed Trump’s account, saying the US has put a 2.5% tariff on Japanese autos.

Trump and Abe met as their senior negotiators wrapped up the second round in as many weeks of accelerated talks to reach a trade deal focused mainly on agriculture and cars.

Japan had dragged its feet on starting the talks for over two years in the hopes that the US may return to the successor deal to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump withdrew the US from during his first days in office.

This week’s talks were mostly focused on confirming the content of the discussions last week.

Other countries’ farmers have gotten preferential access to Japan as a result of deals Abe has struck with them since Trump pulled out of the TPP.

The US is pushing to reduce its trade deficit with Japan and gain better access to the Asian nation’s agriculture market.

For its part, Japan is looking for a concrete promise that it won’t be hit by possible US tariffs on autos imports, similar to duties imposed by the Trump administration last year on steel and aluminium on national security grounds.

In Washington this week, Japanese Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi met with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer while Finance Minister Taro Aso held separate discussion with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Aso said on Thursday that he told Mnuchin that Japan opposes linking currency policy to trade negotiations.

The US Trade Representative has included a provision on currencies in its list of negotiating goals with Japan, and the US has included references to currency in several recent trade deals, including the successor to Nafta, known as USMCA.

On Friday evening, Abe and Trump are to have a private dinner that will also serve as a birthday celebration for First Lady Melania Trump, who turns 49.

Abe has been among the American president’s favourite world leaders, and they have played golf on multiple occasions.

Abe and Trump will see each other again soon, with Trump scheduled to travel to Japan next month where he will be the first world leader honoured with a state visit after the enthronement of Japan’s new emperor, Naruhito.

“On a little bit lighter note,” Trump said late Friday afternoon about that trip, “we will also be going perhaps to a sumo wrestling match.

I’ve always found that fascinating. We’re having a trophy made in this country. We’re going to give the trophy to the winner of the championship. So that should be good.”