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Abe seeks Komeito TPP backing

JIJI

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sought support Monday from the coalition partner of his Liberal Democratic Party for Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks, after he and U.S. President Barack Obama made a key confirmation at their Friday summit in Washington.

During a meeting with Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of New Komeito, Abe explained that he and Obama had confirmed that eliminating all tariffs will not be a precondition for joining the TPP talks.

In response, Yamaguchi said he will study the issue with party colleagues. New Komeito is set to discuss the TPP issue at a meeting of party executives Tuesday, sources said.

Abe told Yamaguchi that it was “of great significance” that he and Obama clarified in their joint statement issued after Friday’s summit at the White House that tariff removal without exceptions will not be a prerequisite.

LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba and New Komeito Secretary General Yoshihisa Inoue joined the Abe-Yamaguchi meeting, which was held after a new Komeito request before the prime minister’s U.S. trip.

Earlier Monday, Abe, the LDP chief, held talks with Ishiba on the TPP issue.

Abe told Ishiba he will “carefully handle” the matter, noting he is aware there are “various opinions” within the ruling party, including strong opponents to the TPP process.

But Abe nevertheless said he aims to get the LDP to accept that he will be the one who decides whether Japan joins the talks.

At a news conference Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government is solely responsible for deciding whether Japan will join the TPP negotiations, suggesting it sees no need to gain the approval of the LDP’s decision-making General Council.

Asked if the government will aim to announce its decision this week on joining the talks, Suga said, “We will likely do so if we decide to bring Japan into the negotiations,” while noting the government will examine a variety of scenarios.

Many LDP members remain opposed to Japan joining the negotiations.

In its campaign platform for the House of Representatives election last December, the LDP vowed to oppose Japan’s participation if blanket tariff elimination is required.

Abe hopes to win the acceptance of those LDP opponents by explaining that tariff elimination exceptions could be possible on some agricultural products, particularly rice, the country’s staple, depending on the course of the negotiations, as indicated in his joint statement with Obama.