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Japan to urge U.S. to lead free trade after Trump inauguration

Japan will continue to push the United States to join it in
taking the lead in advancing free trade globally, officials and
lawmakers said Saturday, after Donald Trump announced the country
will begin withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership following
his swearing in as president.

"It is not yet final that (the TPP) will not be ratified," a
Japanese government official close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said,
referring to the trade pact which was signed by 10 other countries in
February but is now in limbo due to the impending U.S. withdrawal.

The official stressed the importance of "assessing the true
intent of Mr. Trump," saying, "We will gather information thoroughly
and encourage the United States (to ratify the TPP)."

Abe and Trump's predecessor Barack Obama together championed the
pact, preaching its potential economic benefits and the influence
they hope it would give their nations in writing trade rules for the
Asia-Pacific region. The pact would cover some 40 percent of the
global economy.

But on Friday's inauguration day, the White House announced that
the strategy of using international trade to grow the U.S. economy
"starts by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and making
certain that any new trade deals are in the interests of American
workers."

Masahiko Komura, vice president of the ruling Liberal Democratic
Party, defended the 12-nation trade deal, saying, "The TPP will have
a very good impact on the U.S. economy."

"Putting aside the possibility that Mr. Trump would make a
sudden change (in his position), there is a need to again explain"
the importance of the deal, he added in a statement.

Japanese business leaders, for their part, urged their
government to boost efforts to build trust between Tokyo and
Washington in areas such as economic cooperation and free trade.

U.S. withdrawal from the TPP would "adversely affect the global
economy, including ours," said Akio Mimura, chairman of the Japan
Chamber of Commerce and Industry, urging the Abe government to
"tenaciously urge" Trump to see the significance and value of free
trade.

If the pact fails to come into force, China, the world's
second-largest economy which is not part of the TPP, is likely to
take on a greater role in influencing regional trade rules.

The TPP aside, lawmakers from Japan's ruling and opposition
parties expressed hope for stronger ties with the United States, its
key security ally, reflecting the country's stance that casts the
bilateral alliance as the linchpin of foreign policy and security.

The LDP's Komura said the alliance is not only good for both
countries but also for the international community. "We must firmly
maintain such ties and make them even better," he added.

Yoshihiko Noda, secretary general of the main opposition
Democratic Party, said he wants Japan to "build even stronger ties"
with the United States, calling on Trump to be more level-headed when
faced with criticism.

He also said, "I don't want Mr. Trump to be dictated by a
cost-benefit analysis that puts his country's interests first."

Kazuo Shii, leader of the smaller opposition Japanese Communist
Party, took issue with Trump's "America First" agenda, which aims to
protect American citizens on issues of trade and immigration. In a
statement, he said he has "deep concerns" that the U.S. government
may try to impose its will on other countries.

Other Japanese business leaders also weighed in on the Trump
administration's trade policy, with Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of
Keizai Doyukai, Japan's association of corporate executives, saying
in a statement that advancing free trade is indispensable for
sustainably developing the world economy.

With Trump's protectionist policies in mind, Sadayuki
Sakakibara, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, the country's
largest business lobby known as Keidanren, stressed Japanese
companies' contribution to the United States.

"Japanese firms are greatly contributing to the U.S. economy,
with direct investment of up to 410 billion yen (around $3.6 billion)
and creating jobs for 1.7 million people," he said in a statement.

In contrast, Toshiaki Tobita, chairman of the Hokkaido arm of
the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, sounded somewhat more
welcoming about the U.S. move to withdraw from the TPP, crediting his
organization with waging a successful campaign to protect farming in
the largely agrarian region.

Tobita went on to say that his group will keep "close tabs" on
the United States, however, given that the Trump administration's
trade policies are likely to focus on bilateral deals instead of
multilateral arrangements. (Jan. 21)