TOKYO -- In an attempt to get U.S. President Donald Trump to ease up on Japan's trade surplus, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an elaborate presentation last year mapping out new American investments planned by Japanese companies totaling $20 billion.
Abe's explanatory session with Trump in September came to light Wednesday, when Trump told U.S. business leaders in the White House that "Japan is going to be sending ... at least seven more big factories into this country."
The White House conference came a day ahead of the February labor market report, which showed that U.S. employers added only 20,000 jobs that month -- the lowest figure since September 2017.
Though overshadowed in the media by Trump calling Apple CEO Tim Cook "Tim Apple" at the meeting, Trump's remarks did draw scrutiny, with Japanese government officials pointing to the September summit with Abe as the source of the president's information. The meeting took place on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly meetings.
The list included Toyota's joint investment of $1.6 billion with Mazda Motor in a plant in Alabama that would create 4,000 jobs, as well as Panasonic's promise to create 3,000 jobs in Nevada. Concrete details were included to make the outline more appealing to Trump, Japanese government sources said.
At first, Abe had been unsure of how to respond to Trump's pressure to narrow the U.S. trade deficit with Japan. But Tokyo ultimately dodged a hike in American auto tariffs thanks to an agreement between Japan Economic Revitalization Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to negotiate a trade agreement on goods. Abe's rundown of Japanese investment plans may have had a hand in that.
Yet Trump has not let up. He followed Wednesday's claim of incoming "big factories" by saying Tokyo has "got to do more than that; we have too big a deficit with Japan."
Washington and Tokyo are due to start discussing the trade agreement as early as next month, with the U.S. eager to export more agricultural goods and automobiles to Japan. It forced Mexico and Canada to accept what amounted to numerical limits on how many cars they could export to the U.S. when they renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement. Japan aims to reject any such limits, a move that could result in heated sessions.
Japan and China are the chief targets of Trump's campaign to reduce the American trade deficit. Washington and Beijing appear to be making progress in their trade talks, raising concerns that Trump may single out Japan next in search of wins ahead of his bid for re-election next year.