TOKYO: Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday hailed Japanese companies for contributing to US economic prosperity, moving to ease fears over the protectionist agenda of President Donald Trump.
Trump has criticized Japanese auto giant Toyota for planning to open a factory in Mexico, part of general broadsides against both foreign and domestic companies as he emphasizes job creation in the United States.
Last week his administration kept Japan on a Treasury Department watch list covering foreign exchange policies of US trading partners, exerting tacit pressure on Tokyo to buy more American-made goods and services.
Such actions, as well as Trump’s vow to root out alleged unfair trade practices around the world, have sent shivers through Japan Inc, which has a huge presence in the US.
But addressing dozens of Japanese and US business executives on a visit to Tokyo, Pence described his country as “grateful” for Japanese investment and stressed the vibrant business ties between the world’s number one and number three economies.
“The trade between us is an important factor to our success,” he said, noting that the countries together account for a third of the world economy.
“The economic partnership between the US and Japan will continue to grow and flourish,” he added.
Pence, formerly the governor of the state of Indiana, also lauded Toyota and other big US companies for contributing to US prosperity.
“Your businesses create jobs and drive innovation in the United states and in Japan,” he said.
In early January, while still president-elect, Trump in a tweet threatened Toyota with tariffs over a planned new vehicle plant in Mexico.
Weeks later, Toyota said it would invest $600 million and create 400 jobs at one of its US plants as part of some $10 billion investments in the US over the next five years.
Sadayuki Sakakibara, chairman of Japan’s largest business lobby Keidanren, described a meeting Pence held with business leaders before the speech as “truly meaningful.”
Sakakibara said he explained to Pence how Japanese corporate activities have contributed to the US economy.
“I think (Pence) more than fully understood what we said,” Sakakibara told reporters.
On Tuesday the US and Japan kicked off talks aimed at achieving a new economic relationship—in line with Trump’s vow to focus on bilateral trade deals rather than multilateral ones that he says have damaged the US.
Pence and the Japanese Deputy Prime Minister led the talks and planned to meet again before the end of the year to assess progress.
The US vice president said they could eventually result in a bilateral trade deal, though offered no specific time frame.
Trump’s decision to scrap the ambitious 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal championed by former president Barack Obama was a blow to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who expended substantial political capital to get the accord passed at home.