May 06, 2019 - 9:00am

On Trade: A Chance to Go Big in Japan


President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

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Pedestrians walk past the Japanese national flag reflected in a window of a department store in Tokyo.
Pedestrians walk past the Japanese national flag reflected in a window of a department store in Tokyo.

When you stand still on trade, you fall behind. Nowhere is this more apparent for the U.S. than in Japan, the world’s third-largest economy and long a top market for American exports.

Like many other countries in the Indo-Pacific region, Japan is tearing down barriers to global commerce. Meanwhile, the U.S. watches from the sidelines. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a case in point. Our country led the way in negotiating this 12-country trade pact. But when Washington withdrew in 2017, Japan and the other participating countries chose to implement it without us, leaving U.S. companies on the outside looking in.

The rising tide of trade between Japan and its new trade partners has meant lost sales for Americans. This year, U.S. pork exports to Japan have dropped more than 30%. U.S. wheat and barley sales are also declining, as are sales of manufactured goods.

The good news? Change is on the horizon. 

Last month, the U.S. launched negotiations with Japan for a historic bilateral trade agreement. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is committed to getting this agreement across the finish line so that our workers, farmers, and companies don’t get left behind. 

The Chamber wants to ensure that American businesses have a voice in the negotiations, which is why next week I will travel to Tokyo to advocate for a high-standard, comprehensive, and forward-looking trade agreement in my meetings with Japanese business leaders. Among other things, we will highlight the importance of expanding on our existing trade relationship, which topped $300 billion last year alone. Most important, we will work with our Japanese partners to help write new rules for global trade. 

Japan’s companies share many of our concerns about the challenges of international commerce, innovation, and digitalization. Given these shared concerns, the U.S.-Japan trade negotiations represent a chance for our countries to set the rules of trade in the 21st century. We can start with business services, which today employ 50% more Americans than manufacturing. The internet is making more of these services tradeable every day, and with the right trade rules, the U.S. and Japan can reap substantial economic benefits. 

If we don’t write the rules of global trade, they will be written for us by other countries—in ways that won’t favor American jobs. That’s why the time to act on a new trade deal is now, and the place to start is with Japan. 

About the Author

About the Author

Thomas J. Donohue
President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Thomas J. Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.