After regaining power in Sunday’s general election, the Liberal Democratic Party now faces the challenge of reaching internal consensus on whether Japan should join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks.
In its campaign platform, the LDP said it opposes the country’s entry into TPP talks if the deal requires tariff elimination without exemptions, effectively putting off a final decision on whether to allow the country to join the talks.
Abe has expressed confidence that he would be able to persuade the participating countries to allow Japan to exclude certain items from tariff elimination while leaving the possibility open that Japan will join the talks.
But a good number of party colleagues, mainly those backed by farmers, focused their campaigns on opposing the TPP, making it likely the LDP will take a while before reaching a consensus.
Abe told a news conference Monday he will “fully consider” whether Japan’s national interests can be protected if it joins the TPP negotiations.
The United States and 10 other countries already in the TPP talks, hoping to close the deal by the end of next year, are scheduled to meet in March and May.
Even if Japan decides to join the talks, it will have to wait three months after the U.S. government sends a notice to Congress, making it difficult for Japan to take part in the March meeting.
A later decision, after the election next summer for the Upper House, would delay entry further.
This “may put Japan in an even weaker position in the negotiations, with only a limited influence,” said a trade ministry official. “It would not serve the national interest.”