Trump to Seek Bilateral Trade Deal with Japan After Rejecting Multilateral TPP

Japan PM Shinzo Abe
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at a press conference after a meeting with U.S President-elect Donald Trump, New York, November 17. Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty

President Donald Trump will seek quick progress toward a bilateral trade agreement with Japan in place of a broader Asia-Pacific deal he abandoned this week, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits the White House next month, an official in the Trump administration said on Thursday.

"I see Abe's visit being more about finding a follow-through, a replacement for TPP," said the official, referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Trump ditched on Monday.

"Given the domestic political capital (Abe's) expended on TPP, there's going to be an effort to work with him on a follow-on," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Trump, who took office last Friday, reiterated on Thursday he would strike numerous bilateral deals, as opposed to multilateral accords like the TPP. He said they would include clauses to allow a 30-day termination notice if the United States was not treated fairly.

The TPP, which took years to negotiate among 12 countries, has often been described as being, at its core, a deal between the United States and Japan, the world's largest and third-largest economies respectively.

Trump called it bad for American jobs, but proponents worry that abandoning the project could further strengthen China's economic hand in the region.

Japanese media have said Abe is expected to meet Trump in Washington on Feb. 10, although no official announcement has been made as to the timing of the trip.

The administration official said it "was clear what the outlines and the contours" of a deal with Japan would be but did not go into details. "I don't know if there needs to be this protracted long-term negotiation, and there may be some initial steps that are implemented prior to an official Free Trade Agreement," he said.

"It's pretty clear what the problems are on the trade side and it's pretty clear what the opportunities are. I don't think it'll be particularly difficult to get some movement on a couple of different aspects of the trade side relatively quickly."

The White House declined comment on the official's remarks. "We look forward to Prime Minister Abe's upcoming visit and a productive relationship with Japan," a White House official said.

Abe has touted TPP as an engine of economic reform and a counter-weight to a rising China, but Japan's Kyodo news agency said he appeared on Thursday to signal an openness to working out a free trade or economic partnership agreement with the United States.

"We will appeal (to the U.S. administration) on the TPP, but that doesn't mean we absolutely can't also (sign) an EPA or FTA," Kyodo quoted Abe as saying in the Japanese Diet.

It said Abe also suggested Japan would advocate retaining some form of tariffs on rice and four other key agricultural products in any trade negotiations with the United States.

"We will thoroughly protect what we should protect...I want to carry out bilateral negotiations properly, based on the thinking that agriculture is the foundation of this country," it quoted him as saying.