TOKYO – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally invited Japanese auto executives Tuesday in Tokyo to invest more in Canada.
But it appears his efforts in Japan won’t secure immediate, concrete commitments from the auto industry.
Trudeau met with parts manufacturers and the presidents of three auto companies: Honda, Toyota and Subaru.
The CEO of Fuji Heavy Industries, the firm that makes Subaru, told Trudeau he doesn’t have any plans to expand capacity in the near term, though he might in the future, the prime minister’s press secretary Cameron Ahmad said after the meeting.
Trudeau was asked what his auto sector meetings might yield at a news conference later Tuesday.
“I am very much in the relationship-building mode, where we’re talking about the kinds of challenges and opportunities that companies are facing,” said Trudeau, who met with Fuji Heavy Industries’ Yasuyuki Yoshinaga at the official residence of Canada’s ambassador to Japan.
“There are of course many positive conversations being had, not just by me but by our Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, by Canadians working around the world to highlight the extraordinary opportunities to invest in our country.”
Unlike Toyota and Honda, Subaru does not have an operation in Canada.
As part of his pitch, the prime minister also told Yoshinaga that Canadians are innovative and focused on quality.
Trudeau also sat down Tuesday with his Japanese counterpart to discuss the countries’ business ties as well as security co-operation before the Group of Seven summit later this week.
His meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was expected to address issues like investment, education and trade, such as the huge 12-country treaty known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
For his part, Abe was expected to raise a pressing subject for the Japanese: regional security.
Japan is deeply concerned about North Korea’s recent nuclear tests and missile launches as well as an ongoing territorial dispute with China in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
Following their meeting in February, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida issued a statement reconfirming their commitment to maintaining a rules-based order in international maritime law.
Without naming China, they also said they opposed the use of intimidation, force or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo in the Asia-Pacific.
When it comes to China, Keio University law professor Masayuki Tadokoro said Japan will listen carefully to Trudeau’s words on the matter. The concern is Canada may not want to take very strong position due its economic interests in China.
“Canada has always been watching toward the east and south because Canada is an Atlantic state,” Kenjiro Monji, Japan’s ambassador to Canada, said in an interview last week.
“Canada is also a Pacific nation and it is only recently that Canadians started to look to the west, but only through economic lenses.”
Abe is also expected to urge Trudeau to move quickly to open up Canadian liquefied natural gas exports to Japan.
Japan, the world’s biggest importer of LNG, is hoping Canada will issue necessary environmental permits to allow companies to export it from British Columbia.
Monji said LNG is still very important energy source for his country, which makes Canada one of the most promising potential exporters to Japan. He noted that Japanese companies are involved in several LNG projects in Canada.
Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, visited the Meiji Shrine and met with the emperor and empress of Japan.
Trudeau’s Tokyo visit comes ahead of the G7 summit on Thursday and Friday in Ise-Shima.
Follow @AndyBlatchford on Twitter