As interesting as these trade talks will be, it’s the events that led up to them that deserve attention.
President Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan will meet in Washington on Friday as the two countries work toward a bilateral trade deal that could give American farmers more access to Japan’s market and forestall tariffs on Japanese cars.
The trouble, of course, is that the United States already negotiated with Japan and gained greater access to the country’s market. It was Trump who walked away from that deal.
At issue was the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which the Obama administration successfully negotiated, but which Trump killed almost immediately after taking office. The Republican assured Americans at the time that he’d replace the TPP with a “beautiful” alternative, and true to form, that never happened.
Soon after, as regular readers know, our former partners in the TPP struck their own agreement – without us – which created a striking dynamic: the benefits we negotiated to help the United States would now benefit a wide variety of countries, but not ours.
Last week, the Trump administration upbraided Japan for not giving us more favorable trade terms, overlooking the fact that Japan already did, a few years ago, in a deal the Trump administration abandoned for reasons the president has never been able to explain in a coherent way.
The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell had a great piece this week, explaining that dozens of other countries are now benefiting “from changes we persuaded Japan to make,” creating conditions in which American farmers are poised “to lose out, big time.”
Rampell added, “With U.S. farmers quietly freaking out, pressure is mounting to seal a new bilateral trade deal with Japan. But rather than coming to Japan hat in hand, we’re scolding it for keeping its word when we could not be bothered to do the same.”
This is the backdrop for Trump’s talks with Shinzo Abe. The goal, by all appearances, is for Trump to hopefully reach an agreement with terms that are comparable to the ones Obama successfully negotiated.