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Interview

US seeks level playing field in Japan trade talks, ambassador says

Hagerty laments EU deal and TPP 'redistributing' business from America

Washington seeks to "achieve fairer, more balanced trade" with Japan, U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty told Nikkei on April 17. (Photo by Takeshi Kumon)

TOKYO -- America will not let its agricultural exporters be "hurt" by Japanese deals that currently offer better terms to other trade partners, U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty told Nikkei on Wednesday.

Hagerty cited Japan's economic partnership agreement with the European Union and the revamped Trans-Pacific Partnership, which both took effect in recent months, lowering tariffs on a wide range of goods. "By implementing these agreements before addressing our bilateral trade relationship, Japan is effectively redistributing market share away from its strongest ally, the United States," he said.

"Given the strength of our security [and] diplomatic relationships, our view is that we should have an equally strong economic relationship," he said.

Hagerty spoke in Tokyo after the first round of high-level talks on a bilateral trade agreement wrapped up in Washington on Tuesday. The goal of the U.S. in the negotiations is "to address both tariff and nontariff barriers and to achieve fairer, more balanced trade," he said.

Trade will be President Donald Trump's top priority when he meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this month, according to Hagerty. Trump "is very keen to see more production and more job creation in the U.S.," he said.

"It makes sense for Japan to produce products that are consumed in the U.S. locally in the U.S.," Hagerty said.

The American trade deficit with Japan -- a perennial sore spot for Trump -- jumped 24.7% on the month to $6.67 billion in February on a seasonally adjusted census basis, U.S. government data released Wednesday shows. Hagerty said he could not imagine Japan wanting "in any way to aggravate further this persistent trade deficit."

The ambassador looked at the negotiators' decision to include digital trade in the negotiations from a security standpoint, saying Tokyo's and Washington's views are "very closely aligned."

"We want to see a market that is not threatened by state actors that have other motivations or desires that might impact our digital infrastructure," he said in an apparent reference to China.

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