US president Donald Trump is on the cusp of completing a mini-trade deal with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister. Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council at the White House, went as far as saying that an agreement could be signed when the two leaders meet next week at the UN General Assembly in New York.
The deal will be limited because it will essentially swap some Japanese concessions on agriculture, in line with what Tokyo ceded under the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, for reductions in some US industrial tariffs. There will also be a digital chapter, which will please big technology companies.
However, Wendy Cutler, a former US trade negotiator who is now at the Asia Society Policy Institute, pointed out the areas that have been studiously avoided in the talks and pushed to a later stage of negotiations. Among them, Ms Cutler wrote in a tweet this week, are the environment, customs, industrial standards and intellectual property rights. Financial and other services are also expected to be left out of this initial deal.
The point of the mini-agreement for Mr Trump is to hand a victory to US farmers, who have been rapidly losing market share in Japan to EU and rival Pacific nations, as well as suffering from the trade war with China.
Over the course of the year this became a political imperative for Mr Trump. But not everything in agriculture is covered: Mr Abe has not ceded any new access to the ultra-sensitive rice market, according to people close to the talks. For Mr Abe, the goal of the partial agreement is to shield his automotive sector from the national security tariffs that could be coming down the pipe from the Trump administration in mid-November.
Japanese officials have been adamant that they need some form of written immunity over car tariffs, which has been a source of haggling in the final stretch of the talks. This week the FT interviewed Nobuyuki Hirano, chairman of MUFG and head of the Japan-US business council [joint interview with Chuck Robbins, Cisco chief executive, quoted below]. He insisted that Tokyo would need “reassurances” about the tariffs in some form, but also that it would “oppose and reject” any attempt by the US to force quotas or restrictions on Japanese car exports.
With such a crucial issue unresolved, the timeline for the mini-deal might still slip. Meanwhile, there is some concern that if the deal is done, the Japanese — and probably even the Trump administration — will have little incentive to plough ahead with the broader agreement that many business leaders have been looking for.
But Chuck Robbins, chief executive of Cisco and head of the US-Japan Business Council, whom we also interviewed, said he believed the momentum would still be there. “[Bob] Lighthizer and the team like to get these things completed, so my guess is there will still be some energy around getting the second wave done.”
Trump’s ‘Howdy Modi’ could ease tensions with India
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi could also be poised to secure a limited trade truce with Donald Trump in the next week or so.
On Sunday, Mr Modi is set to appear with Mr Trump at a “Howdy Modi” rally at a stadium in Houston, Texas, and officials have said a pact to ease their trade tensions could be on the cards.
Tempers flared in New Delhi this year after Mr Trump removed India from a list of countries that benefit from preferential trade treatment. If India agrees to open up its market to more US farm goods and electronics, that might be reversed. Mr Modi will also want to stave off an incipient US probe into unfair practices under section 301 of the US Trade Act of 1974, which could pave the way for tariffs.
But it is not certain that the “Howdy” pact will go so far, and there are still plenty of big issues over market access, intellectual property and visas that will continue to hamper the relationship between the countries.
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