President Donald Trump highlighted the importance of getting Japan to lower its tariffs on U.S. farm commodities as the two countries hash out a bilateral free trade agreement, a deal he said is progressing very rapidly.
“We’ll be discussing very strongly agriculture because … Japan puts very massive tariffs on … our agriculture going for many years into Japan,” Trump said in a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Japanese Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi is accompanying Abe on the trip to Washington, and the minister is meeting separately with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to negotiate the deal.
While it is true that Japan does impose tariffs on U.S. ag commodities, U.S. negotiators are expected to primarily be focusing on getting those taxes lowered to levels set for major competitors that already have free trade agreements with Japan.
“In recent weeks, Japan cut tariffs for the second time on agricultural imports from the European Union and (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) member countries,” dozens of agriculture groups and companies said in a recent letter to Lighthizer. “As a result, U.S. exporters of wheat, beef, pork, dairy, wine, potatoes, fruits and vegetables, and other products are facing collapse of their Japanese market share as these lucrative sales are handed over to their competitors.”
Trump also stressed the talks are moving extremely fast, going so far as to say they could be wrapped up late next month by the time he and the first lady visit Japan from May 25 to 28 to celebrate the country’s new emperor.
“I think it can go quickly,” Trump said. “Maybe by the time I’m over there. But it’s moving along very nicely. We’ll see what happens.”
That would be a very short period for crafting a free-trade agreement. Such bilateral pacts normally take years to finish, although this one could be relatively brief if negotiators use the agreements struck under the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a template. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the TPP two years ago.
One contentious moment during the press conference came when Trump referenced the threat of new U.S. tariffs on Japanese automobiles. Trump has previously said he used that threat to get Japan to agree to trade talks.
The U.S. doesn’t “tariff their cars,” Trump said of Japan after noting the Japanese tariffs on U.S. ag products. Abe pushed back on that, saying that there were no Japanese tariffs on U.S. cars, but the U.S. charges a 2.5 percent tax on Japanese cars.
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