Japan moves closer to trade pact despite concerns
WASHINGTON (AFP) – Japan has made clear to the United States that it is seriously considering talks on a sweeping Pacific trade pact, but Tokyo’s entry already faces fierce opposition in both countries.
Japan’s newly elected conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, sounded an increasingly upbeat tone on the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership during a visit Friday to Washington despite tepid support from much of his party.
President Barack Obama has cast the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a centrepiece of renewed US engagement in Asia, saying that the emerging pact could boost growth and set rules to govern the dynamic but unwieldy region.
The participation of both Japan and the United States, the world’s two largest developed economies, would make the pact cover nearly 40 per cent of the world economy and potentially offer a model for an elusive global trade accord.
But Japan’s agriculture lobby had fought the previous government over its desire to enter talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, fearing that unprecedented foreign competition would devastate a deeply rooted rice culture.
Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, whose support bases include both farmers and big business, had said during the election campaign that Japan would only enter negotiations if certain sectors were declared off the table from the start.
In a carefully worded statement after Abe’s talks with Obama, the two countries said that “all goods would be subject to negotiation” if Japan decided to enter talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
But the statement acknowledged “sensitivities” on both sides, particularly in agricultural and manufactured goods, and said that no country would be “required to make a prior commitment to unilaterally eliminate all tariffs.”
Abe, addressing reporters after his talks with Obama, suggested that Japan could still achieve his party’s campaign promise to spare sectors during the course of negotiations.