Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has decided not to announce whether Japan will join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks when he meets U.S. President Barack Obama in February, informed sources said Saturday.
The decision was shelved by strong opposition from members of his conservative Liberal Democratic Party and key support groups in the heavily protected farm industry, the sources said.
Abe is concerned that his decision will throw the party into confusion if he announces it before the critical House of Councilors election this summer, the sources said.
On Friday, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed to hold a summit for the two leaders in the week beginning Feb. 17.
At a news conference with Kishida, Clinton said Japan’s entry into the TPP framework will offer “great economic opportunities to all participating nations.”
However, the LDP’s major support groups — including the powerful Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives — are consistently fighting Japan’s participation in the talks, spurring the party’s like-minded members to raise their voices against the trade agreement, which is focused on scrapping all import tariffs.
Many LDP members expect Abe to announce his decision after the Upper House election. One source close to Abe said he won’t be able to do it until he establishes a strong political foundation after the poll.
But a delay in Japan’s entry in the negotiations will make it difficult to persuade the other participants to accept Japan’s requests.
The United States and other participants aim to strike a final deal at a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to be held in Indonesia in October.
But even if Japan decided to enter the TPP process now, Tokyo would not be able to join the negotiations immediately because of a U.S. regulation that obliges Washington to wait 90 days for approval before starting any trade negotiations with a foreign country.
A senior Foreign Ministry official said the developments mean Japan must face the possibility it will lose an opportunity to take part in the rule-making process for the TPP framework.