Although details are still scant, it’s good news that the United States and Japan have seemingly agreed to a limited bilateral trade deal that the U.S. trade representative said would open up $7 billion of new access to Japanese markets.
That would be good news for Minnesota’s beleaguered farmers, among other export-oriented sectors.
The deal’s specifics are sparse, but more may be revealed next week when President Donald Trump meets Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the annual United Nations General Assembly.
“We’re working on a very big deal with Japan, and we’re very close to getting it,” Trump told reporters as he met with Abe at last month’s G-7 Summit in Biarritz, France. “It will be one of the biggest deals we’ve ever made with Japan,” Trump added.
One of, perhaps. But a much bigger, and better, deal was negotiated in 2016 between the U.S., Japan and 10 other nations that would have provided extensive trade and geostrategic benefits: The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement.
But Trump demagogued the TPP in his campaign and canceled any U.S. involvement in the first week of his presidency. (Hillary Clinton, his 2016 opponent, opposed it too, after initially touting it to allies and the American people when she served as secretary of state.)
Jettisoning the pact hurt the leaders who lobbied for it — including Abe. The Japanese prime minister had spent considerable political capital getting concessions from key constituencies, including farmers, to get the Obama administration to agree to the accord.
That’s no way to treat a friend.
And Japan’s not just any ally, according to retired U.S. Navy Admiral Dennis Blair, who told an editorial writer that “I think you could make the argument that Japan is probably the single most important ally that the United States has in the world right now.”
As the former director of national intelligence and commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, Blair knows something of allies.
During a Twin Cities visit arranged by Global Minnesota this week, he said that the TPP is “just the antithesis of the mercantilist Chinese economic approach” and that “we would have been in a much better place to deal with China’s economic challenge with a TPP behind us rather than using the blunt hammer of tariffs.”
The remaining nations that had backed the TPP proceeded without the United States. Meanwhile, China continues to try to write the rules of trade and other aspects of the global order, an outcome that then-President Barack Obama used as a reason for the U.S. to find common cause with allies like Japan.
But it’s not too late.
“We gave up a lot when we pulled out of it,” said Blair, who added that he gave “high marks to the Japanese for keeping it together in a way that we could join it if we come to our senses.”
If that happens, the U.S. would be in a much better position to once again lead on trade.