U.S. President Donald Trump has announced that he will pull the United States out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement just as he had said. Trump appears intent on seeking bilateral trade talks with trading partners instead.
How will Japan respond to this move? Australia, Chile, Peru and some other TPP member countries have proposed that the TPP should come into force even without the United States. One of them urges the other 11 countries to realize the TPP pact even without the United States, while another suggests China and South Korea should be invited into the trade agreement.
The Japanese government, however, has made no such call. It believes the pact is pointless without U.S. participation, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda have stated.
Admittedly, the accord will lose economic significance after the United States' exit. And it will be no easy task to rebuild such a multilateral free trade framework.
Still, a TPP pact without the United States should not be deemed meaningless. Rather, it is necessary to press forward with the TPP pact all the more because Trump is pursuing an "America First" policy at the sacrifice of other countries. Loss of momentum in the promotion of free trade could breed bilateral trade wars.
It is meaningful for the remaining 11 countries to enforce the TPP pact as they share a common philosophy of countering protectionism and would continue to relay such a message to the world including the United States.
Japan and the 10 other signatories should also seriously seek participation by China and other countries.
If the TPP aimed to set trade rules on the initiatives of Japan and the United States without China, then participation by China would be out of the question. However, the United States is being transformed under the Trump administration, and it is highly unlikely that the United States will be a partner that will pursue economic growth on a global scale.
The combined amount of Japan's exports to China and South Korea surpasses the volume of those to the United States. It would be beneficial in terms of security for Japan to strengthen its relations with its neighbors.
Prime Minister Abe recently told the House of Councillors, "I think Mr. Trump is aware of the importance of free and fair trade." It is hard to understand why the prime minister is defending a president who destroyed the trade accord -- formed after nearly six years of arduous negotiations -- on his fourth day in office.
The Trump government will likely demand bilateral trade talks with Japan. Prime Minister Abe has not ruled out that possibility, saying Tokyo "would like to have steady negotiations" with Washington over the matter.
However, if Japan were to abandon the TPP agreement and switch to bilateral talks with the United States, Tokyo would not only face unreasonable demands by Washington but also end up supporting the Trump administration's moves to unilaterally rewrite established international rules. Japan should not fall under an "America First" policy.
The nation should aim to play a pivotal role in forming a framework for free trade among countries that share the same values, which will convince the Trump government that its decision not to participate in the TPP will go against its national interests. (By Yoko Fukumoto, Editorial Writer)