CORRECTS COMPANY NAME TO TOYOTA MOTOR CORP. - Akio Toyoda, center, president and CEO of Toyota Motor Corp., with a group of the Japanese automakers chiefs speaks to Japanese Trade Minister Isshu Sugawara, not in picture, during a meeting Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, in Tokyo. The U.S. and Japan on Wednesday signed a limited trade deal that will eliminate tariffs and expand market access on farm, industrial and digital products. But the deal does not address autos, a key sticking point during months of contentious negotiations, and President Donald Trump indicated the two countries were still working on a broader agreement. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Japan govt welcomes US trade pact, automakers urge more help

September 25, 2019 - 9:28 pm

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese automakers on Thursday urged government officials to do more to support the key industry and their business after their government signed a trade deal with the U.S. that only kept auto tariffs unchanged.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump, both attending the U.N. General Assembly in New York, signed a trade agreement covering agricultural, industrial and digital trade.

Japanese auto industry has been a main U.S. target of blame, and industry officials were hoping to see auto tariffs eliminated, but Japan could only keep them at 2.5% and a U.S. promise of no more for now. Negotiations began last year after Trump complained about huge American trade deficit against Japan and threatened higher tariffs and other measures.

At a meeting with Japanese trade minister and top officials hours after the signing, Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda urged government to do more for the auto industry, citing a harsh business environment. Toyoda also heads the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.

"The auto industry already faces extremely difficult challenges amid rising Japanese yen, possible impact from the upcoming sales tax increase and other uncertainties," a grim-faced Toyoda said in his opening remarks to the officials. "We do hope that the Japanese government understands the severe situation and provide us further support to help the auto industry to strengthen its competitiveness and grow as a strategic industry."

Trade Minister Isshu Sugawara and top ministry officials invited heads of automakers to a meeting in Tokyo, to gain their understanding.

Sugawara said the deal would help assure free and fair trade between the nations.

"This pact would promote free and fair trade environment in the area of autos and auto parts between Japan and the United States, and we welcome that," he said.

Trump has sought a bilateral agreement with Japan, the world's third-largest economy, since pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal after he took office. Washington wants to reduce a chronic trade imbalance that totaled $67.6 billion in 2018, according to U.S. figures.

The two sides reached a basic agreement in late August, but autos remained a major point of contention.

Japan worries Trump might slap new tariffs on its automobiles, which make up a significant amount of its exports to the U.S. Japan also has pushed to eliminate the current 2.5% auto and auto parts tariff.

At a joint news conference, Abe said he specifically asked Trump and won his reassurance that the pact does not allow additional auto tariffs.

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