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Akira-led team must not only balance trade negotiations but handle political hot potato

Abe’s TPP task force to be 100-strong

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a week ago that Japan will join the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks, and when his Cabinet met Friday, he said his administration will launch a 100-member TPP task force to gear up for bargaining.

The head of the task force, economic revitalization minister Akira Amari, will face a delicate balancing act, trying to handle both the TPP negotiations and domestic policy coordination, including accommodating the interests of various stakeholders, particularly the heavily protected agricultural sector, which strongly opposes the trade pact.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the task force team will include 70 negotiators and about 30 staffers in charge of domestic coordination.

“The task force will clearly reflect the ideas of Amari. It will also (sidestep) all of the sectionalism among the ministries,” Suga said.

Coordinating domestic policy will be especially critical for Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, four months before the Upper House election. The LDP can ill-afford to alienate farmers, who have traditionally served as the party’s main voting machine.

Abe has repeatedly reassured farmers that the government will protect Japan’s national interests and vowed that any deregulation will boost Japan’s competitiveness, but his decision to enter Japan into the TPP fray met with strong opposition from LDP lawmakers who fear the regional trade pact will negatively impact the already declining domestic agricultural sector.

The next TPP talks are slated to take place in Lima in May, but Japan will probably not be able to attend the talks anytime soon.

At a news conference afterward, Amari said Japan is still working to gain the endorsement of Australia and New Zealand to participate in the TPP talks.

Japan is also waiting for approval from the U.S. Congress, a process that will take at least 90 days after the U.S. government officially notifies the legislature of its acceptance of Japan’s participation.

“We will keep working so that Japan can join the talks immediately after Congress gives the green light to our participation,” Amari said after the Cabinet meeting.

The meeting, also attended by farm minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, shared information on the last round of TPP negotiations held in Singapore earlier this month.

Information from Kyodo added