Friday, April 26, 2013
William H. Cooper
Specialist in International Trade and Finance
Japan and the United States are two major economic powers. Together they account for over 30% of world domestic product, for a significant portion of international trade in goods and services, and for a major portion of international investment. This economic clout makes the United States and Japan potentially powerful actors in the world economy. Economic conditions in the United States and Japan have a significant impact on the rest of the world. Furthermore, the U.S.-Japan bilateral economic relationship can influence economic conditions in other countries.
The U.S.-Japan economic relationship is strong and mutually advantageous. The two economies are highly integrated via trade in goods and services—they are large markets for each other’s exports and important sources of imports. More importantly, Japan and the United States are closely connected via capital flows. Japan is a major foreign source of financing of the U.S. national debt and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future, as the mounting U.S. public debt needs to be financed and the stock of U.S. domestic savings remains insufficient to meet the investment needs. Japan is also a significant source of foreign private portfolio and direct investment in the United States, and the United States is the origin of much of the foreign investment in Japan.
The relative significance of Japan and the United States as each other’s economic partner has diminished. This trend is due in part to the rise of China and other emerging economic powers. For example, China has overtaken Japan as the largest source of foreign financing of the U.S. national debt. Nevertheless, analyses of trade and other economic data suggest that the bilateral relationship remains important, and policy leaders from both countries face the challenge of how to manage it. The trend is also due to the mediocre performance of the Japanese economy over the last two decades, which was exacerbated by the global economic slowdown beginning in 2008, and other setbacks, including the tsunami, earthquake, and nuclear accidents that occurred in March 2011. Japan is still struggling to achieve sustained economic recovery.
However, during the last decade, U.S. and Japanese policy leaders seem to have made a deliberate effort to drastically reduce the friction that prevailed in the economic relationship during the 1970s, 1980s, and the first half of the 1990s. On the one hand, this calmer environment has stabilized the bilateral relationship and permitted the two countries to focus their attention on other issues of mutual interest, such as national security. On the other hand, as some have argued, the friendlier environment masks serious problems that require more attention, such as Japan’s continuing failure to resolve long-standing market access barriers to U.S. exports. Failure to resolve any of these outstanding issues could heighten friction between the two countries.
More generally, other issues regarding U.S.-Japan economic relations may emerge on the agenda of the 113th Congress. U.S. and Japanese leaders have several options on how to manage their relationship, including stronger reliance on the World Trade Organization; special bilateral discussion frameworks and agreements; or a free trade agreement such as the potential Trans- Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement in which Japan has decided to participate. The possible participation of Japan in the TPP has renewed concerns of some Members of Congress over a number of Japanese trade practices.
Date of Report: April 16, 2013
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: RL32649
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