President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands during their meeting at Trump's private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida April 18, 2018. (AP)

President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe committed Wednesday to intensify bilateral trade talks as the U.S. seeks to rewrite agreements with many of its biggest trading partners.

Trump is pushing for an agreement that would reduce the U.S. trade deficit with Japan, while Abe is seeking an exemption from the steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump announced last month. Trump also said he wanted to find a way to expedite arms sales to allies, including Japan.

"The United States is committed to free, fair and reciprocal -- very important word -- trade. And we’re committed to pursuing a bilateral trade agreement that benefits both of our great countries," Trump said Wednesday during a joint press conference with Abe at the end of a two-day summit at Mar-a-Lago, the president’s Florida resort.

Abe acknowledged that the U.S. is interested in a bilateral deal but said that Japan’s position remains that the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership “is the best for both of the countries."

Japan is the fourth-largest American trading partner, exchanging $200 billion in goods and services annually. In 2017, the U.S. had a $70 billion deficit in that relationship, which Trump has described as “not fair.”

The Trump administration has also sent mixed messages about possibly rejoining the TPP. Trump campaigned in 2016 to pull out of what was then a 12-nation agreement and did so just after he took office. But he suggested last week that he would consider re-entering the accord “if the deal were substantially better” for the U.S.

TPP, or Not

Late Tuesday, however, Trump suggested he wasn’t interested. "While Japan and South Korea would like us to go back into TPP, I don’t like the deal for the United States," Trump tweeted, erroneously claiming that South Korea was part of the multilateral accord. "Too many contingencies and no way to get out if it doesn’t work. Bilateral deals are far more efficient, profitable and better for OUR workers.”

On Wednesday with Abe, Trump showed another possible opening.

"I don’t want to go back into TPP, but if they offer us a deal I can’t refuse on behalf of the United States, I would do it," Trump said.

Source: Bloomberg News - By Jennifer Epstein



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