From the 1970s to the turn of the century, trade disputes between the United States and Japan were common. Japan has now given way to China as America's biggest protagonist on trade. But, as the discussions during US President Donald Trump's recent visit to Japan revealed, there remain important differences on trade between Washington and Tokyo, which will not be easy to bridge.
Mr Trump has chided Japan for its bilateral surplus with the US, which totalled about US$58 billion (S$80 billion) last year. There are two sectors in particular on which the US is focused: agriculture and autos. But in both, the scope for Japan to make concessions is limited. Much of the problem lies in that Japan has made commitments in two plurilateral trade pacts, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) with 10 other countries and the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with European Union members, which are consistent with multilateral rules that Japan does not want to violate.