The Art of the (Bilateral Japanese Trade) Deal

Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, February 9, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Art of the (Bilateral Japanese Trade) Deal


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Washington on Friday to meet with President Trump and his top officials. This occasion could provide the new administration, which has thus far been hostile toward free trade, with an excellent opportunity to chart a new course on this critically important issue.

On the campaign trail and now in the White House, Trump has repeatedly made headlines by excoriating NAFTA, threatening to impose tariffs on Mexican and Chinese goods and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But free-traders shouldn't abandon all hope. He has expressed some willingness to liberalize trade through bilateral agreements. In particular, deals with the United Kingdom and Japan seem like realistic possibilities, especially given the relative wealth parity and strong diplomatic ties the United States shares with both of these countries.

Abe's visit could serve as a launching point for negotiations on a trade pact. And the initial framework for this deal could be none other than the oft-excoriated TPP. After all, the U.S. and Japan were the largest economies that were party to the deal. Although it involved a total of 12 countries, certain portions of the pact were written specifically for the U.S. and Japan.

That's not to say the U.S. and Japan should merely photocopy TPP after scrubbing the other 10 nations. Though he provided few specifics, Trump was right in pointing out that the multilateral trade pact was far from perfect. There is much room for improvement and a bilateral approach could present opportunities for positive change.

For example, negotiators could seek to broaden the tariff reductions set forth in TPP by insisting Japan eliminate more than just duties on 74 percent of its beef products agreed to under TPP.

By the same token, the U.S. could agree to pro-consumer changes, such as accelerating some of the ridiculously long phase-out periods set forth in TPP. The phase-out period for U.S. tariffs on Japanese pickup trucks (currently set at 25 percent) would last 30 years under TPP. …

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