US, Japan Working Toward Free-trade Agreement
The United States and Japan have agreed to begin negotiations on a bilateral free-trade agreement, reducing the prospect that Washington might impose tariffs against another trading partner.
“We’ve agreed today to start trade negotiations between the United States and Japan,” U.S. President Donald Trump said at a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
“This was something that for various reasons over the years Japan was unwilling to do and now they are willing to do. So we’re very happy about that, and I’m sure that we will come to a satisfactory conclusion,” Trump added.
The White House released a statement after the meeting, stating the two countries would enter into talks after completing necessary domestic procedures for a bilateral trade agreement on goods and other key areas, including services.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer called it a “very important step” in expanding U.S.-Japan relations. He told reporters that the U.S. and Japan were aiming to approve a full free-trade agreement soon. Lighthizer said he would talk to Congress on Thursday about seeking authority for the president to negotiate the agreement, under the “fast track” trade authority law.
Lighthizer said he expected the negotiations to include the goal of reaching an “early harvest” on reducing tariffs and other trade barriers.
Tokyo had been reluctant to commit to a bilateral free-trade pact and had hoped that Washington would consider returning to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a broader regional trade agreement championed by the Obama administration that Trump pulled out of in January 2017, siting it wasn’t in the best interest of the U.S..
Japanese officials have expressed concern Trump might pressure Tokyo to open up its politically sensitive farm market. They also are wary Trump might demand a reduction in Japanese auto imports or impose high tariffs on autos and auto parts, which would be detrimental to Japan’s export-reliant economy.
Trump is expressing confidence the two sides will reach an agreement.
“We’re going to have a really great relationship, better than ever before on trade,” he said. “It can only be better for the United States because it couldn’t get any worse because of what’s happened over the years.”
US Flies Bombers Over Disputed South China Sea
The United States again flew bombers over the disputed South China Sea this week, U.S. officials disclosed Wednesday, a move likely to intensify the already fraught tension between Beijing and Washington. This is at least the second time this month the U.S. has flown bombers over the area.
China has long claimed ownership of a vast swath of the South China Sea, an important international trade route through which billions of dollars worth of cargo is shipped annually, and it holds potentially billions of dollars worth more in untapped mineral resources.
The area China claims stretches far below its southern coast, hugging and sometimes overlapping the shorelines of Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines, all of whom have made their own, smaller, claims in the region.
China argues it has had sovereignty over the area going back hundreds of years, first issuing a map showing the area as a part of their country in the 1940s. The nation has spent years trying to protect its claim by building military installations on artificially created islands, replete with naval vessels, nuclear bombers, and fighter jets.
The U.S. regularly tries to undermine China by sending ships and planes into the region on “freedom of navigation” missions, displays of defiant disregard for the claim.
The move comes at at a tense time — China and the U.S. currently are embroiled in a trade war, and U.S. President Donald Trump accused China Wednesday of trying to meddle in U.S. elections.