US President Donald Trump arrived in Japan last week to secure a bilateral trade deal that would allow the US to boost its agricultural exports to Japan. The visit comes two years after the US left the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Sputnik spoke on the issue with Nicole Freiner, a professor at Bryant University in Rhode Island.
Sputnik: In his Twitter, Donald Trump said that ‘great progress being made' in trade negotiations. However, he stressed that ‘much will wait until after their July elections where I anticipate big numbers!'. Why is that and why does the US wait with the trade deal till the elections?
Nicole Freiner: In July, Japan will hold an election for its House of Councillors (or Sangain the upper, less powerful house of Japan's Diet). It is expected however that Prime Minister Abe will dissolve the lower house as well (called the House of Representatives or Shugiin) in order to capitalise on his win last September as head of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party or LDP. With these coming elections and Abe's potential dissolving of the House of Representatives, he is hoping to secure a super-majority that would vote favourably to amend Japan's Constitution revising the war-renouncing Article 9. If Abe is successful, then it would make sense for Trump to wait out these changes in order to marry a potential trade deal with a security deal as well.
Sputnik: Trump has been seeking a bilateral trade agreement with Tokyo since he pulled the US out of the multinational Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement two years ago. How will this affect the relations between the US and Japan and other partners in the region?
Nicole Freiner: Trump's decision to pull out of the TPP weakened the deal, despite Japan's moving forward with other Asia-Pacific countries in TPP-11. This multilateral deal is not nearly as important as it would have been with the US included but oftentimes President Trump prefers bilateral deals where the US maintains its strong position and may push for more concessions.
Although the US withdrawal weakened the deal, Japan now is in a stronger position as it can proceed under the logic that it has already made concessions via TPP-11 and won't go further with the US in a bilateral deal. The US position in Asia is often viewed through the lens of its relationship with Japan so moving forward in a deal with Japan is important for continuing strength in the region, especially given recent North Korea and China's progress on Belt and Road project.
Sputnik: What can we expect from the July elections in Japan? Will Trump's visit influence the future elections in Japan somehow?
Nicole Freiner: PM Abe is likely to use his relationship with Trump as an important factor in his re-appointment bid if an election of the Lower House is called, it is his wish to leave constitutional change as his legacy and using a potential deal with the US with Trump can add to this rationale. July elections will be rocky if a double election of both houses is called. Currently, the public is cautious of LDP rule now that the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is no longer a contender. The LDP is in a strong position with its TPP-11 deal, agreement with Europe and moves to shore up its defences. It is likely that Abe's LDP will do well in the Upper House election, and if he does, calling for an additional lower house election will be his last chance at revising the constitution.
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