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Japanese leaders question Trump's protectionism after he hits Toyota

Japanese political and business leaders questioned U.S.
President-elect Donald Trump's protectionist stance Friday after he
blasted Toyota Motor Corp.'s plan to build vehicles in Mexico, while
the Japanese carmaker stressed its contribution to the U.S. economy.
Toyota said in a statement that "production volume or employment
in the U.S. will not decrease" as a result of its new plant in Mexico
announced in 2015. Toyota is the largest automaker in Japan and the
third biggest in the United States in sales.
"Toyota looks forward to collaborating with the Trump
Administration to serve in the best interests of consumers and the
automotive industry," the statement said.
The president-elect threatened Thursday in a Twitter message to
impose heavy taxes on Toyota if the automaker goes ahead with its
plan to produce Corolla cars for the United States in Mexico.
The tweet came after Toyota President Akio Toyoda said in Tokyo
that the automaker has no immediate plans to reconsider its envisaged
production in Mexico.
Toyota sold over 2.44 million cars in the United States last
year, making it the third largest in the market after General Motors
Co. and Ford Motors Co.
"I wonder if the president-elect knows the amount of cars Toyota
produces in the United States," Finance Minister Taro Aso told a
press conference.
Other Japanese business leaders voiced hope for an open business
environment under the incoming Trump administration.
"I request world leaders to guarantee a free flow of people,
products, money and information," Sony Corp. President Kazuo Hirai
said Thursday in Las Vegas where he is attending the Consumer
Electronics Show, an annual global trade show.
Sony exports DVDs produced in a plant in Mexico to the United
States.
"It is important that Mr. Trump acts accordingly to the more
specific plans he will have when he becomes president," he said.
Nissan Motor Co. Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn said he
will pay close attention to Trump's trade policy.
"We all want to be watching carefully...what's going to be the
new policy, what's going to be the rules, particularly North American
(trade) rules," Ghosn told reporters in Las Vegas.
Trump has said he will focus on putting "America First" by
pressing companies to keep jobs and production in the United States,
vowing to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, a deal
concluded by the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Ghosn indicated patience is needed ahead of Trump's inauguration
Jan. 20. "Nothing (has) happened so far," Ghosn said, while adding
that he "is fine" with the president-elect's "America First" stance
to create new jobs.
Nissan, Japan's second-largest automaker, has major export bases
in Mexico. It launched its Mexican production in the 1960s followed
by Honda Motor Co. in 1995 and Mazda Motor Corp. in 2014.
Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, head of the Japan Association of Corporate
Executives, pointed out that the U.S. president-elect signaling
protectionism could be part of his strategy. "We don't have to fully
accept it, but it does raise concern," he said.
Kobayashi added that Toyota does not have to follow Ford Motor
that cancelled plans this week to build a new factory in Mexico but
warned that it would be "risky" for Japanese firms to consider
launching new operations there.
Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko told a
press conference that the government will support the Japanese car
industry despite Trump's threat. The Japanese car industry has
already established a local production system in the United States,
he added.
"I don't think there are plans to move U.S. production bases
overseas, including to Mexico," said the trade minister.
But with Trump indicating that the United States could slap a 35
percent tariff on imports from Mexico, a major Japanese carmaker
official said that an extreme rise in tariffs, if it happens, "could
lead to a possible reviewing of our production (in Mexico)."
Honda President Takahiro Hachigo told reporters Thursday that
the company plans to stay in Mexico hopefully "for the continuation
of the NAFTA deal."
Mazda CEO Masamichi Kogai also said earlier in the week that the
automaker's Mexican plant will remain a core manufacturing base. (Jan. 6)