Japan wants to highlight global imbalances as key topics of debate, and take steps to fix them, when it chairs next year's gatherings of the Group of 20 major economies, government officials said this week.
Tokyo hopes other countries would join Japan to counter US President Donald Trump's focus on narrowing US trade deficits through purely bilateral trade deals, the officials say, rather than the big international agreements now in place.
Japan's agenda-setting plan also underscores Tokyo's view that instead of focusing too much on bilateral trade imbalances, there should be more emphasis on overall capital flows and structural factors behind the US current account deficit - such as a lack of domestic savings.
Trump's "America First" policies and escalating Sino-Chinese trade frictions have overshadowed the weekend gathering of G20 finance leaders, many of whom expressed concerns over the harm to global growth from trade conflicts.
The G20 finance leaders failed to bridge differences on trade with this year's chair, Argentine Treasury Minister Nicolas Dujovne, conceding that the G20 can only provide a platform for countries to solve disputes among themselves.
"The G20 isn't a forum to solve bilateral trade disputes...but it's the best forum for debate if you see trade frictions as part of a bigger problem of global imbalances," said a senior Japanese government official directly involved in G20 negotiations.
Global imbalances had once been a key topic of debate at G20 gatherings with a focus on each country's current account balance, or the overall flow of money that included, but was not confined, to trade.
This approach runs counter to Trump's focus on narrowing the US trade deficit via import tariffs and bilateral deals.
Japan has long favoured a mulilateral approach on trade over bilateral deals, which would put it under direct US pressure to open up sensitive markets like agriculture.
Japanese policymakers concede that convincing the Trump administration to shift its emphasis away from bilateral US trade deficits and to focus on structural policies could be difficult.
"It may be a hard sell," the official said. "But we can't give up."