Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe met with Donald Trump for a two-day summit in Washington, D.C. on February 10 and at Mar-a-lago, Trump’s golf resort in Florida, on February 11. They met to iron out the trade and economic relationship between the world’s first and third largest economies. The backdrop was the Trump plan for a bilateral U.S.-Japan trade agreement that would cement the two countries’ economic relationship now that the U.S. has withdrawn from negotiations for a multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal with Japan and eleven other countries.
The two right-wing and nationalistic heads of state announced after the conclusion of Friday’s formal talks that they had agreed to establish a formal “bilateral dialogue framework” on trade and related economic and security issues. The “dialogue” negotiations will be co-chaired by U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence and Japanese Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso. Takumi Sakuyama, a former Japanese negotiator on the TPP and now a university professor, said it was “inevitable” for Abe to respond to the U.S. initiative to start negotiations on a bilateral trade agreement between the U.S. and Japan.”
Trump campaigned against trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the TPP as a way to return jobs to the American Rustbelt. Now in office, Trump seeks to renegotiate NAFTA and to cut a new series of harmful bilateral trade deals with individual countries like Japan and the United Kingdom rather than multilateral deals like the TPP. Trump alleges that his eagerness to negotiate new bilateral trade deals can be squared with his campaign promises because he will have more leverage in one-on- one negotiations and that will result in so-called “America First” agreements.
Ironically, Abe was the TPP’s biggest champion, but he is a political realist who recognises that the U.S. will not re-join the TPP. Yet, he may see an advantage in negotiating with Trump on bilateral trade issues, if talks proceed in tandem with negotiations on security in East Asia. Abe appears to agree with Trump that Japan should further build up its military might and more aggressively project it: thus, the inclusion of security issues in the Pence-Aso “dialogue” and the announcement that U.S. and Japanese secretaries of defense and foreign affairs would back up the lead negotiators.
Trump also has a hidden agenda in negotiations: pushing a U.S.-Japan trade deal to roll back essential environmental and climate safeguards. In his month in office, Trump has taken steps to deregulate mountain top removal coal mining and stop transparency for payments that Big Oil makes to dictators overseas. He has quickly moved to push forward the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines. Trump is the world’s foremost climate change denier and an apologist for Big Oil, polluting industries, corporate agriculture, and manufacturers of unsafe chemicals and food products. Now, he wants to take his anti-environment crusade global.
Friends of the Earth U.S. and Friends of the Earth Japan agree that Trump’s negotiating objectives for a Japan deal have nothing to do with fair trade and everything to do with magnifying corporate power and despoiling the planet. Any U.S.-Japan trade agreement, negotiated by Trump, is certain to roll back a wide range of environmental safeguards in areas such as food safety, chemical regulation, agriculture, pollinator protection, energy, and climate change.
For example, fossil fuel companies will want a U.S.-Japan deal that encourages a massive expansion of trade in oil, coal and in particular liquefied natural gas across the Pacific, where it would be burned, thereby heating up the planet. The Abe government has signaled that it would welcome more U.S. LNG and shale oil exports, in particular.
Friends of the Earth Japan and Friends of the Earth U.S. share larger concerns about the personal and political axis developing between the Trump and Abe governments. Donald Trump's aggressive "America First" posture on trade, his militarism and his disdain to the rights of people is encouraging Japanese far-right nationalists. Over the last five years, Prime Minister Abe's authoritarian government has passed a set of security measures to deploy military overseas, push for nuclear and coal power plant trade, and force the construction of the U.S base in Okinawa using illegal arrests and incitements to violence, among other outrages. The Trump presidency will further encourage such abuses, undermine Japan's democracy, and threaten regional stability in East Asia.
Friends of the Earth U.S. and Friends of the Earth Japan are deeply concerned about the rampant discrimination and aggressive nationalism in our two countries. We demand that the Abe and Trump governments immediately desist from such dangerous behavior. We call for resistance. We seek to build a global people’s movement that will lead us to an equitable and environmentally sustainable world.