Photo/IllutrationU.S. Ambassador William Hagerty is interviewed by The Asahi Shimbun on Feb. 4 at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. (Atsushi Okudera)

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Washington is frustrated at the slow pace of trade talks with Tokyo but will not raise tariffs on Japanese vehicles if negotiations are held in “good faith” and in a timely manner, U.S. Ambassador William Hagerty said.

At the same time, Hagerty took issue with the Japanese government's insistence on describing the talks with the United States as negotiations toward a Trade Agreement on Goods (TAG).

“We don’t use the term ‘TAG,’” Hagerty said in the Feb. 4 interview with The Asahi Shimbun. “It’s not consistent with our understanding. Our goal is to have a trade agreement that is no worse than any other terms that Japan has with other countries.”

Hagerty reiterated that the joint statement issued in September 2018 after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with U.S. President Donald Trump in New York clearly stated that the two nations would enter negotiations for a trade agreement “on goods, as well as on other key areas including services.”

The ambassador was also asked about the strong resistance raised by Japanese officials after the Trump administration hinted that tariffs on Japanese car exports could be raised to 25 percent.

“The president has agreed to withhold the implementation of the tariffs, as long as we’re negotiating quickly and in good faith with the Japanese side,” Hagerty said.

He said that if the talks meet those conditions, Washington would not likely implement Section 232 of the U.S. Trade Expansion Act that gives the president authority to impose tariffs on national security grounds.

Hagerty explained that “economic security and national security are the same” for Trump, adding that the president “wants to have a trade agreement with our major partners that is no less favorable than any other country.”

The top U.S. envoy also said, “There was a great deal of frustration trying to get together with our counterparts in Japan.”

Hagerty mentioned that U.S. Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly stressed that a trade deal was needed in meetings with top Japanese officials in 2017 and 2018, but Pence obtained no response from his counterparts.

Hagerty also said Abe has made no response whenever Trump has brought up the need for a trade deal in their direct talks.

The U.S. president could visit Japan at least twice in May and June, Hagerty said.

The Japanese government is working on a plan to invite Trump as a state guest after Crown Prince Naruhito ascends the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1.

“I think he very much appreciates the kind invitation to be a state guest of the new emperor,” Hagerty said. “The G-20 also will be another wonderful opportunity to be present here in Japan, and I know that his scheduling team are working very hard to accommodate both of these events.”

Japan will host the Group of 20 summit in June in Osaka.

On other issues, Hagerty said he hoped Japanese companies would take note of the position taken by Washington and Tokyo regarding Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co. and government procurement of its products.

“The U.S. government is taking very seriously the situation with any company that is building critical infrastructure that is subject to the undue influence of another government,” he said. “Huawei would meet that definition.”

He added that “many of our allies, including Japan, Australia and New Zealand, have a shared concern in this regard.”

China was also a key topic regarding Washington’s decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia.

“We have only the United States complying (with the INF treaty),” Hagerty said. “Russia is not complying. China is not even a party to the agreement. This is a construct that is not working well for us.”

He added that “having China included in a nonproliferation treaty would certainly be a more desirable position than where we are today.”

Hagerty was also asked about the contentious plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from densely populated Ginowan to the Henoko area in Nago, also in Okinawa Prefecture.

“I think that there is no other viable option at this point,” he said.

But he refrained from commenting on the increasingly acrimonious relationship between Tokyo and Naha over the Futenma relocation.

Hagerty also said he was well aware of the worsening relationship between Japan and South Korea regarding lawsuits brought by wartime laborers seeking compensation from Japanese companies and conflicting reports about encounters between Self-Defense Forces aircraft and South Korean naval ships.

“The most important point is our security environment, and our trilateral cooperation has been very effective,” Hagerty said. “A cooling off (between Japan and South Korea) will offer an opportunity to begin to look toward some very critical challenges that confront all three of our countries.”

(This article was written by Atsushi Okudera, Ryo Kiyomiya and Senior Staff Writer Taketsugu Sato.)

Excerpts of the interview with U.S. Ambassador William Hagerty follow: U.S. ambassador: China still big problem in trade, military issues