Japan’s Abe presses Davos crowd to rebuild trust in free trade

Aerial yard view - containers at port

January 23, 2019 - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told political and business leaders gathered in Davos, Switzerland, to renew trust in global trade, as he seeks avoid of repeat of last year’s tit-for-tat tariffs and trade tensions.

In a speech to the World Economic Forum on Wednesday, Abe cast himself as loyal defender of globalization, saying two continent-spanning trade deals brokered by his government last year will benefit the world economy.

“Japan is determined to preserve and committed to enhancing the free, open, and rules-based international order,” Abe said. “I call on all of you, ladies and gentlemen, to rebuild trust toward the system for international trade.”

Abe found himself facing awkward criticism from the U.S.—Japan’s main security guarantor and second-largest trade partner—as President Donald Trump’s administration threatened to slap tariffs on the country’s goods. The prime minister has attempted to avoid confrontation, opening bilateral trade talks with Washington, while supporting U.S. criticism of the financial advantages China gives its state-owned firms.

In a veiled swipe at Beijing, Abe called for change at the World Trade Organization, especially its rules on government subsidies. He also said that systems governing intellectual property, e-commerce and government procurement must be put in place.

‘Great Changes’

“There are great changes—WTO is not keeping up with these changes,” Abe said, in a question session after the speech. “We need to reform the WTO to increase trust.”

Abe has pressed ahead with an 11-nation Pacific trade pact after Trump withdrew, completing the deal last year. His government also reached a separate agreement with the European Union, which is set to come into effect in a week.

Japan’s automakers, alongside those in the EU, remain at risk of sanctions that Trump could slap on foreign cars stemming from a Commerce Department report due in February that could justify the move on national security grounds. The U.S. is also seeking more access to Japan’s agriculture market in trade talks expected to start soon.

The Japanese prime minister is preparing to host the Group of 20 summit in June in Osaka, and pledged to use the platform to promote environmental policies. Japan will seek to build consensus on reducing the flow of plastic waste into the world’s oceans, Abe said during the speech.

“The global economy is gradually recovering,” he said afterward. “But there are risks on the horizon and one of them as you mention is U.S.-China trade friction. Japan has said all along that it is in no country’s interest to have a tit-for-tat of trade-limiting measures.”

Source: Bloomberg