Trump's Tokyo visit seen unlikely to yield US-Japan trade pact

US President Donald Trump (right) met with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on April 26, 2019.
US President Donald Trump (right) met with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on April 26, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are unlikely to resolve trade disputes involving automobile tariffs during meetings starting this weekend in Tokyo, a Japanese official said.

"I don't think they will find the final solution at this summit meeting," Takehiro Shimada, minister of public affairs at the Japanese embassy in Washington, told reporters on Thursday (May 23). Instead, Shimada said he anticipated the two leaders would "confirm the importance of the acceleration of the negotiations" toward "creating a win-win" agreement.

A US official also downplayed the prospects on trade on Wednesday, saying it's not the focus of the four-day trip, which is built around the symbolism of close U S-Japan ties. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Trump's plans, said the president intends to promote bilateral, free and fair trade in his conversations with Abe.

Trump last week declared that imported cars represented a threat to US national security but announced a delay in imposing tariffs on imported vehicles and parts from Japan and other nations for 180 days to pursue negotiations. Trump, who departs for Tokyo on Friday, has sought to cut the US trade deficit with Japan.

Talks are expected to take place at the ministerial level, with Japanese Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi slated to host US Trade Ambassador Robert Lighthizer on Saturday, according to FNN television.

Trump is the first foreign leader to visit Japan since Emperor Naruhito ascended to the throne on May 1. Trump and Abe are scheduled to play golf in the Tokyo suburbs, watch a sumo match and have an informal dinner with their wives at an izakaya on Sunday.

"It's a very big thing going on with the emperor," Trump said Thursday at the White House. "It's something that hasn't happened in over 200 years. I am the guest, meaning the United States is the guest, but Prime Minister Abe said to me very specifically: 'You are the guest of honour.' There's only one guest of honour, you are the guest of honour, I represent the country."

When Abe visited the White House in late April, Trump said he expected talks would go "fairly quickly, maybe the time I'm over there, maybe we can sign it over there."