In characteristically blunt remarks directed at Japanese business executives U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday called for them to manufacture more in America, lamenting “Japan has been winning” against the United States in trade for decades.
"Right now, our trade with Japan is not fair or open," the president said at a breakfast attended by leaders of 18 major Japanese corporations and 9 American companies. “But I know it will be."
Trump predicted that without the Trans-Pacific Partnership "we will have more trade than anybody ever thought."
"I don’t understand what he means by ‘not fair or open,'" said Morihiro Yomogida, an economics professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, noting Japan has issues with some American trade policies.
"The U.S. also recently imposed high anti-dumping duties on the imports of some steel and iron products from Japan. So, I’m not sure U.S. is always fair to the trade with Japan," Yomogida tells VOA.
Former State Department Japan Office Director Kevin Maher says "The time is not ripe to talk about a Japan-U.S. free trade agreement. It’s very difficult to imagine the Japanese would go farther than they were under the TPP, especially in sensitive issues such as agriculture and cars."
The U.S. agricultural sector has been hurt by the TPP withdrawal, Maher, in Tokyo, tells VOA, "Because other TPP members will be able to take advantage of the better standards the Japanese will introduce."
Trump, on his first full weekday in office, killed U.S. participation in the TPP. The agreement had been negotiated by the preceding Obama administration with 11 other countries and was considered a hallmark deal to more closely align the United States with East Asia amid a surging China.
The president also on Monday called for increased overseas manufacturing by Japanese automakers.
"Try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over," he said. "Is that rude?"
It was certainly a jarring comment for the automakers who put their first plant on American soil in 1982 when Honda began manufacturing in the state of Ohio. Two years later Toyota opened a joint venture plant with General Motors in California that lasted until 2010.
Japan maintains an impressive auto-manufacturing presence in North America. The number of cars its three biggest carmakers produce in the United States for some years has exceeded that of America’s big three vehicle manufacturers. In total, Japanese companies build about four million vehicles annually in the North America – about 75 percent of all Japanese cars sold in the United States.
Trump also made a push for more American-built cars to be on the streets of Japan – a mere 20,000 U.S.-produced vehicles are sold to Japanese drivers annually.
"Virtually no cars go from the United States into Japan," he said, adding that will have to be negotiated “in a friendly way."
Trump, who is having his second day of talks Monday with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has built a friendly relationship with the Japanese leader. They speak on the phone frequently and on Sunday discussed North Korea’s increasing nuclear weapons and missile threat, as well as trade during nine holes of golf and then over dinner with their wives at a Ginza steakhouse.
After the first round of talks Monday Trump told reporters, "It was indeed a good meeting and mostly pertaining to trade, North Korea and a couple of other subjects that we lightly touched on. We’re making tremendous progress, I believe on trade in particular, bringing deficits down and having a fair and equal trade. And I look forward to finishing up the discussions."
"The real focus of this trip is security issues, really," according to Maher, now an international business consultant. "But Trump had to talk about trade issues, as well."