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Japan Cheers U.S. Interest in Trade Deal, but Trump Tweets Caution

13 Apr 2018 4:31 am
By Megumi Fujikawa and Rob Taylor 

Japan welcomed news that the U.S. was looking at rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pushed as a counterweight against Chinese economic influence.

But President Donald Trump pointed to a tough road ahead in any negotiations, saying in a tweet that he "would only join TPP if the deal were substantially better than the deal offered to Pres. Obama." Mr. Trump also said Japan "has hit us hard on trade for years!"

The president told lawmakers Thursday he asked his advisers to study whether the U.S. should re-enter the TPP. Eleven Pacific-Rim nations signed the TPP deal in March at a ceremony in Chile. The U.S.--which had led the TPP talks under the Obama administration--wasn't there because Mr. Trump pulled out in January 2017.

Japan's chief government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said Friday that Tokyo welcomed the news of Mr. Trump's comments, "assuming that this is an expression of his view as president of the TPP's significance and favorable effects."

The Nikkei Stock Average was up 0.5% in morning trading, driven in part by hopes that U.S. membership in the TPP would lead to more trade for Japan, said Takashi Hiratsuka, trading group leader at Resona Bank's asset-management division. However, he said "skepticism remains about the sustainability" of the gains because of uncertainty about the Trump administration's overall trade strategy.

Mr. Trump's tweet added to the uncertainty by suggesting he continued to see multinational deals such as the TPP as inferior to two-way deals between the U.S. and other nations.

"We already have BILATERAL deals with six of the eleven nations in TPP and are working to make a deal with the biggest of those nations, Japan, " Mr. Trump said. Tokyo has resisted entering into talks on a two-way deal with the U.S.

Mr. Suga, the Japanese spokesman, also offered a note of caution, saying any negotiations to bring the U.S. into the TPP could be challenging because the 11 signatories would be reluctant to reopen issues resolved in earlier talks that included the U.S. The TPP agreement was "like delicate glasswork," he said. "To take out one part and renegotiate would be extremely difficult."

Prime Minister Abe has repeatedly advocated the TPP in meetings with Mr. Trump, and the two meet again next week in the U.S. Mr. Suga said Japan will "once again make the case that the TPP is a plus for the U.S. economy and jobs."

In Australia and New Zealand, two of the 11 nations in the TPP, some lawmakers welcomed possible U.S. participation in the TPP because it could offer greater access to the American market. Critics said a U.S. re-entry could revive some of the original deal's most controversial inclusions, including longer copyright and patent protections for U.S. pharmaceutical giants. Some of those provisions were frozen in the TPP-11.

"Everything that's on ice gets defrosted if the U.S. comes back to the table," said Sen. Sarah Hanson-Young, a trade spokeswoman for the influential Australian Greens party.

Kosaku Narioka contributed to this article.

Write to Megumi Fujikawa at megumi.fujikawa@wsj.com and Rob Taylor at rob.taylor@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 13, 2018 00:31 ET (04:31 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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