Japan PM to meet Toyota president before Trump summit

Thu Feb 2, 2017 6:32am EST
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By Stanley White

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would meet the head of Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T: Quote) on Friday, as Tokyo compiles a plan to ward off U.S. criticism of Japanese trade policy before a summit with President Donald Trump next week.

Trump, who has pledged to put America first when it comes to trade, has rattled Japan by criticizing the low number of U.S. cars sold in Japan and by demanding that more cars sold in the United States be made locally.

Abe, speaking in parliament on Thursday, said the meeting was arranged months ago, but this will do little to quell speculation that he will pass on some instructions to Japan's top auto maker about how to avoid Trump's protectionist ire.

The stakes are high because Japan's politically powerful auto industry is a major contributor to exports and economic growth. If Trump curbs Japanese auto exports, either from Japan or from plants in Mexico, this could slow Japan's economy.

"I did not suddenly summon the head of Toyota (because of U.S. criticism)," Abe said.

"This meeting was planned months ago. I cannot tell private-sector companies what to do. The United State thinks the same way."

Abe and Toyota President Akio Toyoda are set to meet at 6:30 p.m. on Friday at a hotel restaurant in Tokyo to exchange views on auto production in North America and other issues, a person involved in the meeting arrangements said.

Some Japanese policymakers worry Trump will consider limits on Japanese auto imports, which make up about 75 percent of Japan's trade surplus with the United States.   Continued...

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes a policy speech at the start of the ordinary session of parliament in Tokyo, Japan, January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai