Noda puts TPP back on radar

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s Cabinet attempted Tuesday to speed up discussions on whether Japan should join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks, hoping to have a decision by early next month at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Hawaii.

But there remains strong opposition from within the Democratic Party of Japan as well as by Cabinet members who fear joining the free-trade framework could devastate domestic agriculture.

The discord has left unclear just how fast the government can reach a conclusion.

During a minister-level meeting Tuesday, Motohisa Furukawa, state minister of national strategy, economic and fiscal policy, stressed the need for Japan to open up its economy more, pointing to long-running problems, including the graying of society and aftereffects from the March 11 tsunami-quake disaster.

“The situation remains that we need to open up the country in order to see economic growth,” he said.

Meanwhile farm minister Michihiko Kano, known as an opponent of the TPP, said a decision should not be rushed, stressing that discussions should be held carefully with no deadline.

“Setting a time limit does not necessarily have just positive effects on diplomatic negotiations,” Kano told a news conference Tuesday morning.

“I think we need to act with caution about setting a deadline.”

Participants at Tuesday’s talks, the first for Noda’s Cabinet, included Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba, trade minister Yukio Edano and Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, who told reporters in the morning that Japan would be at a disadvantage if it falls behind in participating in the TPP negotiations.

“It is not a merit but a demerit to join the negotiations halfway,” Fujimura said.

On Monday, Noda indicated he will decide on whether to join the TPP process “without delay.”

“I want to strive to achieve both the regeneration of agriculture and high-level economic cooperation,” Noda said.

Currently, there are nine Asia-Pacific countries, including the United States, Australia, and Vietnam, that have joined negotiations on the regional free-trade initiative.