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By Max Sato
     TOKYO (MNI) - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe maintained Japan's balanced
approach to trade disputes at the weekend's Group of Seven summit, while
stressing removing North Korea's nuclear threat and resolving the decades-old
issue of abductions of Japanese nationals remain the most pressing tasks for his
administration amid sagging public support.
     Abe told reporters after the summit in Charlevoix, Quebec, that he pushed
for the continued G7 commitment to promoting free and fair trade, noting
"imposing trade-restricting measures and responding in retaliation does not
serve any country's interests" without naming the U.S.
     Japanese officials used domestic media to highlight Abe's role as a
mediator between U.S. President Donald Trump and the other G7 leaders over the
U.S. protectionist moves, saying the Japanese Prime Minister's proposal to add
the need to "improve WTO (World Trade Organization) rules" helped the group
produce a compromise communique.
     "We acknowledge that free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade and
investment, while creating reciprocal benefits, are key engines for growth and
job creation," the G7 leaders said in the joint communique.
     "We recommit to the conclusions on trade of the Hamburg G20 Summit, in
particular, we underline the crucial role of a rules-based international trading
system and continue to fight protectionism."
     The leaders added that they "commit to modernize the WTO to make it more
fair as soon as possible. We strive to reduce tariff barriers, non-tariff
barriers and subsidies."
     Although accepting the communique initially, Trump then tweeted from his
plane en route to the Singapore summit with North Korea that he was rescinding
his signature.
     While staying in the majority G7 camp of pursuing free trade and investment
under multilateral frameworks, Abe also said Japan will seek "mutually
beneficial results" in new ministerial-level trade talks with the U.S., its
close military and economic ally.
     Trade frictions with the U.S. are nothing new to Japanese policymakers.
Since the 1970s, the two allies have always worked out some measures to open up
each other's markets while keeping some protection for their industries.
     Japanese carmakers and electronics firms have survived waves of trade rows
and yen appreciation by relocation factories to other countries close to
consumers and seeking business in global markets. Japanese farmers and sake
breweries are also seeking to expand their exports to high-end markets overseas.
     For Japanese politicians in the ruling coalition, the impact of U.S.
disputes with its G7 partners and China is uncertain and the trade rows can drag
on in the long term.
     The more pressing issues for them that can have an immediate impact on the
public approval ratings of the Abe cabinet are North Korea's missile and nuclear
attack capabilities and the abduction of young Japanese men and women decades
ago, some of whom have not been accounted for.
     The latest telephone poll by public broadcaster NHK last month showed 44%
of the voters disapproved of the Abe government, saying the personalities of the
cabinet were not trustworthy and that they could not expect much from government
policies. The approval rating remained low at 38%.
     Japanese leaders are closely monitoring the outcome of Tuesday's meeting
between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore and its
impact on global financial markets and investors' views on geopolitical risks.
     Prime Minister Abe has been asking President Trump to help resolve the
long-standing issue of Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korean agents in
the 1970s and 1980s.
     Abe said the G7 leaders were united in supporting Trump on peace talks with
     He went on to say, "If we were to hold Japan-North Korea leaders' meeting,
it would be good to lead to the resolution of the issues of the North Korean
nuclear and missile (development ambitions), and most importantly, the abduction
--MNI Tokyo Bureau; tel: +81 90-4670-5309; email: