(Bloomberg) -- Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sought to highlight his country’s investments in the US with a visit to a Toyota Motor Corp. plant in North Carolina, a crucial battleground state in the 2024 contest between President Joe Biden and Donald Trump. 

Kishida on Friday visited the Greensboro plant campus where Toyota last year injected an additional $8 billion to make batteries for electric vehicles — a move bringing the carmaker’s total investment in North Carolina to about $14 billion. He also dropped by a Honda Aircraft Co. factory in the state. The stops follow a summit in Washington with Biden, where strengthening economic and defense ties topped the agenda.

“I was able to agree with President Biden that the promotion of bilateral investment is very important for the US-Japan relationship to drive the global economy,” Kishida told reporters late Thursday, saying the visit would showcase Japan’s investments to the American public.

Kishida said he “felt that there is a strong common understanding in the US that transcends party affiliation,” but the visit comes amid controversy over another planned Japanese investment, Nippon Steel Corp.’s bid to take over United States Steep Corp., and with Biden struggling to get voters to credit him for policies that have sought to bring back manufacturing jobs to the US, in an election in which the economy is taking center stage.

US Steel is headquartered in swing-state Pennsylvania. Trump has said he will try to block the deal and Biden’s labor allies are seeking greater concessions, worried about the prospect of job losses. Biden has said he wants US Steel to remain domestically owned, but stopped short of pledging to kill the deal.

The deal is already facing two US probes and the companies are deliberating a decision to formally push back the time frame they expect to close the transaction. Kishida has taken a cautious stance, characterizing it as a matter between two private companies. 

Earlier: US Steel and Nippon Steel Mull Pushing Back Date to Seal Deal

North Carolina and Pennsylvania will be critical to Biden’s hopes of securing a second term. A March Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll found Biden and Trump tied in Pennsylvania with 45% each and Trump holding a 49% to 43% edge in North Carolina. The poll showed the economy as the single most important issue to voters in seven swing states, a challenge for Biden with voters anxious about high inflation despite data showing job growth.

Kishida’s visit — which saw the Japanese leader survey the vast Greensboro Toyota campus — was designed to underscore the investments and growth Biden has said are happening under his tenure. Japan is the biggest foreign investor in the US with a nearly $800 billion investment. Japanese companies employ about 1 million Americans across all 50 states, with half of them in manufacturing, Kishida said in his speech to the US Congress Thursday.  

The Greensboro campus is expected to hire 5,100 people — 800 of whom have already hired, according to Toyota. Tetsuo Ogawa, president and CEO of Toyota North America, greeted Kishida and thanked government representatives from the US and Japan for building the relationships essential to the company’s US business. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, attended the event.

“Our commitment is to keep investment and jobs in the United States,” Ogawa said.

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“Kishida’s visit to North Carolina reflects a Japanese realization that compared to DC, state governors are practical in welcoming Japanese investment,” said William Chou, a Japan Chair fellow at the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington. “The trip is also a PR exercise to remind Americans that Japan is the largest investor in the US, providing good careers that strengthen the US industrial and technological bases.”

After Toyota, Kishida visited Honda Aircraft in Greensboro, which employs about 1,000 people and makes very light jets.

--With assistance from Michelle Jamrisko, Yuki Hagiwara and Josh Wingrove.

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