President Donald Trump told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that his nation’s economy isn’t quite as strong as that of the United States, a jibe that came as Trump continued his charges of unfair trade practices by Japan.
After complimenting the strength of Japan’s economy, Trump went on to say, “I don’t know if it’s as good as ours. I think not. OK? We’re going to try to keep it that way. And you’ll be second.”
Abe grinned slightly, but it was an awkward moment after a trip in which the two men went out of their way to call each other friends and stress the bonds between the two allies, which both men said were the strongest ever.
According to World Bank data, the U.S. is the world’s largest economy with a gross domestic product of $18.6 trillion. China is second at $11.2 trillion and Japan third at $4.9 trillion.
Trump has pushed the Japanese government to open its economy to U.S. goods to shrink America’s $69 billion trade deficit with Japan, second only to China. But the two countries have been unable to agree on a path forward since Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade deal negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Trump’s top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, said in June that Japan had asked the U.S. to rejoin the deal. The U.S. would prefer to negotiate a bilateral trade deal with the Japanese, an option Abe’s government has rebuffed.
At talks last month, U.S. and Japanese officials made incremental progress on trade and investment issues, agreeing to lift restrictions on Japanese persimmons and Idaho potatoes. Japan also agreed to streamline noise and emission testing for imported U.S. cars.
American allies in Asia are looking for signs from the president of a new strategy for the region now that the U.S. has pulled out of TPP, said former U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.
“Is this a retreat from the region? If not, what is the alternative approach?” he told Bloomberg Television on Friday.