Japan Inc. warily welcomes new economic dialogue with U.S.

Japanese companies are hoping the just-launched Japan-U.S. economic dialogue will help them expand investment in the United States while bracing for tough demands from the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

The dialogue is expected to “become a foundation for strengthening the two countries’ economic relations,” Sadayuki Sakakibara, chairman of Keidanren, said in a statement, welcoming the launch of the bilateral forum on Tuesday.

Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) aims to have its magnetic levitation technology adopted for a high-speed train project in the northeastern part of the United States.

“We would be happy if the economic dialogue leads to the launch of a study” on the introduction of the maglev technology, JR Tokai President Koei Tsuge said.

Meanwhile, an executive of Toyota Motor Corp. said, “We should remain on alert.” The automobile trade imbalance is mainly behind the U.S. trade deficit with Japan.

At a news conference after the first meeting of the dialogue, held in Tokyo on Tuesday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said that the dialogue may result in free trade negotiations between the United States and Japan in the future.

Japanese automakers are concerned that they could face a renewed call from Trump for boosting production in the United States or may be pressured to curb exports to the U.S. market.

Japan may also be urged to increase imports of U.S. automobiles, informed sources said. The Trump administration’s moves to increase tariffs on vehicles made in Mexico are another concern, the sources added.

Toyota, whose plan to set up a new facility in Mexico was rapped by Trump, announced a large-scale investment plan for its Kentucky plant earlier this month as part of its strategy to pump a total of $10 billion into the United States over the next five years.

The leading Japanese automaker is expected to announce more investment plans for the United States as soon as they are decided, apparently in an effort to obtain understanding and avert criticism from the U.S. side, informed sources said.

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