Lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have agreed to call on the government to keep the party’s election pledge of refusing to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks if the abolition of tariffs without exception is a precondition.
The move Wednesday came ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama later this month, during which the ongoing TPP negotiations will be a topic of discussion. Abe has said he will seek during his huddle with Obama to “get a feel for” whether exceptions to tariff elimination will be permitted.
“We wanted to show that the LDP is a party that adheres to its election promises,” Seishiro Eto, who heads an LDP group on the TPP Pacific Rim free-trade initiative, told reporters after the meeting of the party’s Diet members, referring to the LDP’s promise during campaigning for the House of Representatives election Dec. 16 that it would oppose Japan’s participation in the TPP negotiations if one of the preconditions becomes abolishing tariffs without restriction.
The LDP lawmakers also called for five other conditions to be met, also part of the ruling party’s election platform, including protecting the country’s health insurance system, which covers all citizens, and food safety standards, while rejecting numerical targets for imports of cars and other manufactured products. Lawmakers known to favor Japan’s participation in the TPP discussions, including former Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, did not raise any objections to the six-point document.
As the TPP is likely to be a high-level free-trade pact, some experts say that even if certain items are exempted from tariff elimination, it is unlikely that Tokyo will be able to negotiate exceptions for sensitive items in the way it has done for bilateral free-trade agreements.
Under the previous government to Abe’s, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, Tokyo held consultations with countries involved in the TPP negotiations, including the United States, with an eye toward participating in the talks.
But Yoshihiko Noda quit as prime minister and the DPJ was trounced in the Dec. 16 election before his administration had a chance to commit to Japan’s participation, which has been widely opposed by a subsidized farm sector that fears an influx of cheaper produce from overseas under lowered tariffs, and by rural-electorate members of his own party.