Financial Times

Abe seeks to take Trump gifts of ‘tweetable’ investment pledges

by Robin Harding, Leo Lewis and Kana Inagaki - Tokyo, Financial Times

February 8, 2017 | 10:06 am
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Bid to forge personal bond on US visit; Tokyo drums up infrastructure commitments

Japan’s government is pushing companies to hand over details of their US investment plans so Shinzo Abe can deliver a “tweetable” figure to Donald Trump when they meet this week.

Executives at three top Japanese companies said officials had been in touch asking for investment numbers. Public investment institutions say the prime minister is also leaning on them to pledge tens of billions of dollars to US infrastructure projects, such as high-speed rail.

Mr Abe’s effort to bring gifts highlights his determination to forge a personal bond with the president. He aims to gain influence over US policy in Asia and blunt tensions over trade or the cost of keeping American forces in Japan.

Mr Abe will arrive in the US on Friday, accompanied by his finance, foreign and trade ministers. After a summit in Washington, he will spend Saturday playing golf with Mr Trump at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

“The most important thing is to reconfirm the importance of the US- Japan relationship in politics, economics and security,” said Sadayuki Sakakibara, chairman of Japan’s Keidanren business federation.

Given friction over trade and the yen, Mr Sakakibara urged Mr Abe to tell the president about the $400bn of direct investment and 1.7m jobs that he says Japanese companies support in the US. The executives said part of the aim was to give Mr Trump a positive line for his Twitter feed. “We’re contributing to the expansion of US exports and want to let him know that,” he said.

The premier met Akio Toyoda, Toyota chief executive, last week to discuss car exports and US manufacturing after Mr Trump singled out the group for criticism over plans for a Mexico plant.

After the criticism, Toyota pledged to invest $10bn in the US over five years and unveiled proposals to add 400 jobs at its plant in Princeton, Indiana.

Mr Trump has repeatedly said other countries take advantage of the US and has also implied that Japan, which has a large trade surplus with the US, manipulates the value of the yen – a suggestion Mr Abe strongly rejects.

Given that Mr Abe is only pulling together existing investment plans, some companies fear that rather than mollify the president, any pledge could become a baseline Japan has to exceed. “Just because Trump has been elected doesn’t mean we immediately change our business plan,” said one senior Japanese manufacturer. “We can only invest in factories we actually need.”

The second plank of Mr Abe’s initiative is a proposal for Japanese investors to put money behind Mr Trump’s infrastructure stimulus plan.

Support could take the form of export credits, loans from the Japan Bank for International Co-operation or purchases of infrastructure bonds.


by Robin Harding, Leo Lewis and Kana Inagaki - Tokyo, Financial Times

February 8, 2017 | 10:06 am
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