TOKYO — It is a situation in which automobile trade issues could develop into new friction between Japan and the United States. Japan must counter the United States appropriately without giving in to baseless criticism.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Toyota President Akio Toyoda held a meeting. Their talks were apparently intended to coordinate public-private efforts to respond to pressure against Japan from U.S. President Donald Trump ahead of a meeting between the two leaders Friday, which is expected to focus on auto trade.
Trump blasted Toyota's plan to build a new plant in Mexico and prodded the automaker to produce cars in the United States. Toyota then announced new investment plans in the United States, but Trump has yet to mention the announcement.
In the United States, the middle-income class, which was built largely through mass employment by companies such as the three major automakers, has been struggling for reasons such as the streamlining of factories. Frustration in industrial areas pushed Trump to the presidency. This is why Trump is fixated on auto production in the United States.
Nevertheless, taking aim at Japanese automobiles is off the mark.
Sixty percent of Japanese vehicles sold in the U.S. market are produced in the United States. In the wake of Japan-U.S. friction in the 1980s and '90s, Japanese automakers increasingly made a shift from exports to local production.
Japanese automakers have now created 1.5 million jobs in the United States, including those in parts and sales areas. Toyota has stressed his company's efforts to fit into U.S. society, saying, "We're also one of America's carmakers."
Contributions by Japanese companies through investment and employment are significant. Trump should accurately recognize this.
Trump criticized Japan's market as closed, claiming that Japan makes it difficult to sell U.S. cars in Japan.
This criticism is also inaccurate.
The United States levies a tariff of 2.5 percent on Japanese auto imports, but Japan has already removed its tariff on U.S. automobiles.
Japan's safety standards, seen by Washington as problematic, cannot be called non-tariff barriers. Tokyo has taken such measures as allowing U.S. auto exports into Japan if they meet European safety standards.
U.S. auto sales in Japan stand at about 10,000 a year in total. It is in stark contrast to Mercedes-Benz, BMW and other European brands, which sell tens of thousands of units each.
U.S. automakers have yet to exhaust efforts to cater to the Japanese market such as by launching small and attractive models.
It is speculated that sluggish U.S. auto demand is attributable to the U.S. automakers' failure to make efforts to produce automobiles attractive to consumers compared with their Japanese and European rivals.
Trump's criticism of Japan guiding the yen lower meshes with the claims of the U.S. auto industry. Even when the yen was stronger, U.S. auto sales were lackluster. It is also unreasonable to use foreign exchange markets, which move based on various factors, as a tool to shore up specific trade items.
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