Trump hints won’t push Japan for trade deal before summer election

Photo by the Kyodo. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

TOKYO, May 26, 2019, Kyodo. U.S. President Donald Trump indicated Sunday he will not push Japan for a bilateral trade agreement before a House of Councillors election in the summer. “Much will wait until after their July elections,” Trump said in a Twitter post after playing golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the second day of his four-day state visit to Japan. Later Sunday, the leaders watched a sumo tournament and had dinner with their wives, reported the Kyodo.

The two leaders may reach a broad agreement in September when they meet on the sidelines the U.N. General Assembly, according to sources familiar with bilateral relations.

“Great progress being made in our Trade Negotiations with Japan. Agriculture and beef heavily in play,” Trump wrote, a sign that he will not prod Abe for a swift conclusion of the ongoing bilateral trade talks when they hold an official meeting Monday.

Trump apparently took into account Abe’s concern about being forced to make concessions related to the agricultural sector — a sensitive issue for Japan — as the prime minister leads his Liberal Democratic Party into the upper house election, with a simultaneous election for the House of Representatives also a possibility.

Speaking to reporters after playing 16 holes with Trump and veteran Japanese professional golfer Isao Aoki, Abe said, “I think I had a frank exchange of views (with Trump) in a very relaxed atmosphere,” without providing details.

The two leaders had breakfast and lunch together at Mobara Country Club in Chiba Prefecture, and their lunch included double cheeseburgers with U.S. beef, according to Japanese officials.

It was their fifth round of golf together since Trump took office in 2017. The most recent time they played was during Abe’s trip to Washington in late April.

Abe, dressed in a blue blazer and white pants, welcomed Trump, wearing a red pullover and carrying a red hat in his hand, who arrived at the golf course on his Marine One helicopter.

Trump’s tweet came a day after he said he wants to make bilateral trade “a little bit more fair,” a sign of his frustration about the hefty and chronic U.S. trade deficit with Japan.

Speaking at a meeting with Japanese business leaders, Trump said he wants to address the imbalance, remove barriers to U.S. exports and ensure fairness and reciprocity, while foreshadowing several announcements including “some very big ones over the next few months.”

While maintaining hefty tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Japan and other U.S. trading partners, Trump has also threatened Tokyo and other major car exporters with a potential 25 percent automobile levy in a bid to pressure them into making concessions.

Aside from bilateral trade, Abe and Trump, in their formal talks Monday, are expected to affirm coordination over North Korea.

But in a contrast with U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, Trump on Sunday played down the significance of North Korean short-range ballistic missile tests earlier this month.

“North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me,” Trump tweeted, a day after Bolton said Pyongyang’s recent missile launches were in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution — a view shared by Japan.

Trump said he has confidence in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The two have met twice, the first time in Singapore last June and the second in Hanoi in February.

On the final day of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan, Trump presented The United States President’s Cup, a huge, eagle-topped American-made trophy to Asanoyama, a rank-and-file wrestler who clinched his first title Saturday.

“It’s a very ancient sport and I’ve always wanted to see sumo wrestling, so it was really great,” Trump said over dinner at a Japanese charcoal grill restaurant in Tokyo with U.S. first lady Melania, Abe and his wife Akie.

In contrast to lunch, dinner featured wagyu beef steak, according to the White House.

On Monday, Trump and the first lady, the first state guests of Japan’s new Reiwa imperial era, will have an audience with new Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako.

Trump will be the first foreign leader to meet with the emperor, who ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1 after former Emperor Akihito abdicated the previous day, the first Japanese monarch to stand down in about 200 years.

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