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Editorial: Trump must remember responsibility as superpower leader, respect free trade

If a superpower were to declare it prizes its own profit above all and turn its back on international cooperation, world order could not be maintained.

U.S. President Donald Trump has promoted an "America First" protectionist policy of reducing the country's trade deficit and building domestic employment. This is clearly shown by the United States' withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which aimed to establish a multilateral free trade framework.

The move, which followed Britain's decision to break away from the EU, symbolizes surging anti-globalism. Trump's TPP withdrawal also represented his abandonment of his responsibility as the leader of a major economic power to put the world economy on a stable growth track.

The world economy has gained steam over the past year. Since the TPP accord has not yet come into force, the U.S. withdrawal did not impact world economic performance.

The International Monetary Fund attributes the global economic recovery largely to brisk world trade. This is the result of the free trade system that the international community has built up since the end of World War II. The U.S., which has benefited enormously from globalization, led the establishment of the free trade framework. Nevertheless, Trump is aiming to step up protectionist policy with an eye to the U.S. midterm elections this coming autumn.

The Trump administration is threatening to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) unless pact partners Mexico and Canada grant major concessions beneficial to Washington. The ongoing renegotiation of the treaty will soon enter a crucial stage.

Trump is furthermore considering high punitive tariffs on China, with which the U.S. has the largest trade deficit. The move could spark a trade war between Washington and Beijing and throw the world economy into confusion, eventually adversely affecting the U.S. If the volume of U.S. exports decreases, it would worsen the country's employment situation. If less expensive imported goods decrease in the U.S. market, it would squeeze household budgets, dealing a particularly serious blow to the low-income earners whom Trump courted in the 2016 presidential race.

Free trade brings great benefits to countries involved. Hitherto, the international community led by the U.S. has cooperated to prevent protectionism.

Furthermore, the U.S. has an even more important responsibility; leading international cooperation based on universal values including democracy and rule of law. Led by the U.S., countries participating in the TPP have set thoroughly transparent rules aimed at facilitating trade and overseas investment.

China is rapidly catching up with the U.S. in terms of economic scale, but the United States stands out in the world as a normative model.

Trump's policy decision criteria are based on whether a measure is profitable or unprofitable to the U.S. If the Trump government were to disregard international cooperation for the sake of immediate domestic gain, the United States would be increasingly isolated from the world, which would bring it no benefit.

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